This article examines issues related to risk and culture, with particular emphasis on how risk impinges on children growing up in Africa. The article treats risk as an emic (cultural-insider and culture-specific) rather than an etic (science-driven and generalizable) concept (Pike, 1957). It argues that emic considerations are essential to the selection and measurement of variables that should be classified as risk, to the classification of outcomes, and to the design and implementation of intervention strategies. To help structure the themes, risks are discussed in the context of Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological model, which organizes the diversity of influences on human development into a series of layers or systems. The article demonstrates that these systems, and the model's recurrent theme of continuity/discontinuity, provide a useful structure for understanding risk in African children's development. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).