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An Enduring Institution? Child Fostering in Sub-Saharan Africa
Authors: Cassandra Cotton
Source: Population and Development Review, DOI:
Topic(s): Family structure
Country: Africa
  Multiple African Countries
Published: SEP 2021
Abstract: Child fostering has been documented over time in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. We know little, however, about how the prevalence of fostering differs across countries and broad regions, nor about how fostering—and its predictors—has changed within countries over time. To explore prevalence, trends, and predictors of child fostering, I leverage Demographic and Health Survey data of mothers of children aged 0–15 from 139 surveys in 36 countries collected between 1986 and 2019, representing all regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Results suggest striking variation in the prevalence of contemporary fostering, ranging from 11.5 percent of mothers in Burundi to 45.7 percent in Namibia in the most recent survey. Fostering trends have fluctuated over time in the majority of countries, but have remained broadly stable, with random and fixed-effects models indicating that the key correlates across and within countries over time have remained stable, with the prevalence of never-married motherhood playing a key role in fostering. Together, results suggest child fostering remains an enduring institution in family life throughout sub-Saharan Africa.