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Unicef Kenya head tabled stats on child poverty, health and the economy - but do her figures add up?

The future of Kenya's children was the subject of a data-packed media article in a major Kenyan newspaper. But did the numbers stack up?

  • The Unicef country head was correct with claims about stunting, vaccination, the number of Kenyan children affected by violence and the threat of female genital mutilation.

  • She was also close enough on claims about children living in poverty and teenage mothers, although the data on malnutrition was inflated. 

  • But Nilofer's article was way off the mark in its claims about the Kenyan economy, including the level of domestic taxes and the proportion of national debt.

As the Kenyan government prepares its budget for the new fiscal year starting in July, Unicef, the United Nation's children's agency, has called for more investment in children's welfare.

In an article published in the Standard newspaper at the end of January 2024, Shaheen Nilofer, the highest-ranking Unicef official in Kenya, called for education, health and social protection to be prioritised in the budget. 

The article with the headline How we can make tomorrow better for all Kenyan children was also republished on the Unicef Kenya website

The artificial intelligence tool that Africa Check uses to monitor public debate picked up several claims in the article. We vetted 10 for accuracy.

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“Half of the nation’s population comprises children…”



In her article, Nilofer claimed that “half of the nation’s population comprises children”.

The Kenyan constitution defines a child as “an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years”. Unicef also uses a similar definition from the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, a widely accepted international treaty.

For data on Kenya's child population, we checked with the national statistics office, which released census data in 2019 and published population projections based on that data. 

The 2019 census data showed that out of the 47.6 million people counted in Kenya, 21.9 million were under the age of 18.  This means that children make up 46% of the total population. 

Claiming that half the population are children inflates the actual census figures by 1.9 million. 

The most recent population projections were published in September 2022. The population was estimated at 51.5 million people in 2023 and 52.4 million in 2024.

The population aged under 18 in 2023 was estimated at 21.8 million or 42.3% of the population in 2023, and 21.9 million or 41.7% of the population in 2024. 

The claim inflates the latest figures by 3.99 million in 2023 and 4.33 million in 2024.  – Tess Wandia


“10.39 million children are mired in multidimensional poverty.”


Mostly correct

Unicef Kenya told Africa Check by email that this figure comes from a 2023 report, Inequalities in well-being in Kenya, published by the country’s data agency. Unicef was involved in its preparation.

The report notes that a child is considered multidimensionally poor if they are deprived of education,  protection, information, water, sanitation, housing and energy – not just monetary poverty.

Multidimensional poverty is tracked through indicators such as school attendance, child labour, child marriage and teenage motherhood, media exposure, source of drinking water and lighting, and the materials used in housing.   

The report concluded that 47.7% of children were multidimensionally poor in 2019. At that time, there were 21,923,187 million children. So 47.7% is 10,457,360, close to the claim. 

We rate the claim mostly correct. – Tess Wandia


“The number of children under five requiring malnutrition treatment surged by 10%, reaching one million, compared to 2022.”



The World Health Organization (WHO) defines malnutrition as “deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients or impaired nutrient utilisation”. 

Kenya’s health ministry conducts seasonal food and nutrition security assessments twice a year. Data from these shows that:  

  • In February 2022, there were 754,906 children under five in need of malnutrition treatment. By July 2022, this number had risen to 884,464   an increase of 17.1%.
  • In February 2023, the figure was at 970,214, an increase of 9.7%, but then fell by 2.5% to 945,610 in July 2023. 

The total increase from 884,464 in July 2022 to 945,610 in July 2023 is 6.9%. 

The figure is not yet 10% or 1 million. The figures seem to have been rounded up. – Makinia Juma


“Kenya has a 64% debt-to-GDP ratio.”



Gross domestic product (GDP) is a commonly used measure of the size of a country’s economy. It refers to the market value of all goods and services produced during a given period, usually a year.

The debt-to-GDP ratio measures the amount of debt relative to the size of the economy. If the ratio is low, it means that the amount of debt is relatively small compared to the size of the economy, and therefore the country can repay the debt without too much difficulty.

Kenya's national treasury publishes annual debt management reports as obligated by law. These reports include debt to GDP data.

The country’s debt-to-GDP ratio increased to 68.1% in June 2021 and was estimated at 67.3% in June 2022. 

The most recent monthly debt data show that the debt ratio was 69.1% of GDP in December 2023. 

In a January 2024 report, the International Monetary Fund projected the ratio at 73.2% in 2023. The ratio is higher than stated in the article. – Makinia Juma


“Approximately 30% of domestic revenue comes from taxes, particularly VAT and fees.”



Value added tax, or VAT, is collected on consumption and is the type of tax paid by the largest number of people.

Increases in VAT and fees were a pain point for poor Kenyans in 2023. Unicef noted that tax increases should not “disproportionately burden the poor and vulnerable”.

Domestic revenue, also known as ordinary revenue, refers to all the taxes that the Kenya Revenue Authority is allowed to collect, plus appropriation-in-aid, which is money collected by government ministries, said Noah Wamalwa of the Institute of Economic Affairs Kenya, a public policy thinktank in Nairobi.

Unicef told Africa Check that the data comes from the draft budget policy statement published on 18 December 2023.

However, this document was a draft and the final document was published in February 2024. 

But what data was available when the Unicef article was published? We consulted official data.

Actual figure is almost three times higher than claimed

The national treasury's most recent budget review paper was published in September 2023. It showed that of the KSh2.2 trillion (about US$15 billion) in revenues collected in 2021/22, taxes accounted for KSh1.77 trillion or 80.5%.  

In 2022/23, out of a provisional domestic revenue figure of KSh2.36 trillion, tax revenue accounted for KSh1.887 trillion or 79.9%. 

The draft document used by Unicef contains the same data as in the final document published in February 2024. It has data up to October 2023. 

It showed that out of KSh826.7 billion collected, tax revenue amounted to KSh662.6 billion or 80.1% of total revenue. 

For the most recent data, Wamalwa referred Africa Check to the treasury’s latest quarterly report which includes economic and budget returns until 31 December 2023 – the first half of the 2023/24 financial year.

Out of KSh1.313 trillion in domestic revenue, taxes accounted for KSh1.121 trillion or 85% of the total revenue.  

The claim that 30% of domestic revenue comes from taxes is false – the figure is almost three times higher. 

What portion of domestic revenue comes from VAT?

For 2021/22, VAT amounted to KSh523.1 billion or 23.8% of the total domestic revenue. In 2022/23, VAT totalled KSh580.6 billion or 24.6% of the total domestic revenue. 

The most recent data to 31 December 2023 showed that VAT amounted to KSh317.9 billion, or 24.2% of domestic revenue.  

None of the data we looked at shows how much the government collected in “fees”. This is included as part of non-tax revenue and also as part of appropriation-in-aid. 

Based on all the data we have seen, we rate the claim as false. – Makinia Juma


“Kenya has an 18% stunting rate among under-five children.”



The WHO defines stunting as low height for age and is the result of chronic or recurrent undernutrition. 

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) referred Africa Check to its most recent 2022 demographic and health survey. This showed that 18% of children under five in Kenya were stunted or considered too short for their age. 

The claim is accurate. – Makinia Juma


“Kenya has 80% vaccination coverage.”



Vaccination coverage estimates the proportion of people who have received a particular vaccine. 

In Kenya, children are vaccinated against tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis B, rotavirus, whooping cough, tetanus and measles. 

The demographic and health survey monitors vaccination coverage. 

For a child to be “considered fully vaccinated against all basic antigens”, they must have received: 

  • One dose of tuberculosis vaccine (BCG vaccine)
  • Three doses of polio vaccine, excluding the oral polio vaccine given at birth
  • A vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (DPT vaccine)
  • A single dose of measles vaccine

The most recent survey, published in 2022, puts vaccination coverage at 80%. – Tess Wandia


“One in two children in Kenya is affected by violence.”



The WHO defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, or another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation".

Unicef told Africa Check that the data comes from its 2019 survey on violence against children. The agency worked with the children’s department and KNBS, among others, to prepare the survey.  

The survey defined the national prevalence of childhood violence as “violence occurring before age 18 years among 18-24-year-olds”. 

“Childhood violence was assessed among individuals 18 years and older because they had already completed childhood,”  the Unicef survey said. The respondents were 788 men and 1,344 women.

The survey documented sexual, physical and emotional violence. It found that “nearly half of females (45.9%) and more than half of males (56.1%) experienced at least one type of violence childhood violence before age 18”.

“Based on this data, we often [say that] half of children in Kenya are affected by violence,” Unicef Kenya told Africa Check in an email. 

The data checks out. – Makinia Juma


“Kenya has 15% of girls facing the threat of female genital mutilation.”



Female genital mutilation (FGM)  is any procedure involving the removal of or injury to the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes.

Where it is practised, it is largely done for cultural and social reasons. But the WHO says female genital mutilation violates the human rights of girls and women and is an extreme form of gender discrimination.

The demographic and health survey is used to track FGM in Kenya. 

The most recent data, published in 2022, showed the prevalence of female genital mutilation was 15%, as claimed. A 2023 Unicef database of 31 countries shows that Somalia has the highest prevalence of FGM, at 99.2%. Guinea is second with 94.5%. – Makinia Juma


“Kenya has 418,000 girls affected by teenage pregnancy.”


Mostly correct

Teenage pregnancy is the percentage of women aged 19 and under who become pregnant in a given period. 

In Kenya, it refers to the percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 who have ever been pregnant. The 2022 demographic and health survey found this to be 14.9%.

To assess the figure in the claim, Africa Check contacted Francis Kundu, a senior manager for demography at the national statistics office.

He advised us on how to approach the data. We compared the reported proportion of girls who have become mothers with the population projection for 2022 for girls aged 15 to 19 years. There were 2,787,718 girls in this age group.

This is 14.9% or 415,370 girls and is very close to the claim. – Tess Wandia


UPDATE 15/03/2024 - This report has been amended to remove a quote attributed to the International Budget Partnership, a thinktank on budget transparency, on where to find data. This does not affect the accuracy of the fact-checked claim that "about 30% of domestic revenue comes from taxes, mainly VAT and fees".

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