Violence against children is a serious problem in South Africa

2014-04-03 07:00

  In a 2014 law review by the Children’s Institute, UCT and Save the Children South Africa it was revealed that violence against children is considered a widespread problem that affects large numbers of children in South Africa. The exact scale of children exposed to violence is unknown and currently, the knowledge base consists mainly of smaller-scale studies conducted with the adult population. In South Africa the most commonly reported forms of violence are physical and sexual violence in the home, community and school.

Although most experts in the field regard the statistics as gross underestimates in view of the widespread under-reporting of incidents of violence against children, SAPS statistics for 2011/2012 reported that there were 25 862 child victims of sexual offences, representing 40.1% of all sexual offences in the country. During the same period more than 23 000 children were physically assaulted, almost half of them having suffered grievous bodily harm. In other words, in 2011/12 more than 50 000 children were victims of violent assault.

In a 2013 national study on child homicide it was revealed that 1 018 children were murdered in 2009 and 45% of these murders took place in the context of child abuse (physical and sexual violence and abandonment). 40.7% of child abuse-related deaths in the age bracket under five years were due to abandonment, under-fives were also the most vulnerable to fatal abuse, with 61% of child abuse-related deaths occurring in this age bracket. The study also revealed extreme rates of teenage male murders, with deaths frequently linked to the use of weapons. Rape homicide was associated with a quarter of all girl homicides.

In a community-based study conducted in the Eastern Cape during 2010, 89.3% of young women and 94.4% of young men stated that they had experienced severe physical punishment before they reached the age of 18. 30% of young women and 17% of young men report having been sexually abused before they reach the age of 18.

It is a well-known fact that Domestic violence is a huge problem in South Africa. According to statistics at least three women are murdered each a day in the context of domestic violence in South Africa. Accordingly it is estimated that South Africa has the highest reported rate of (intimate femicide) female killings in the world.

Another study estimated that between a 30% and 50% of women have experienced domestic violence and that between 35 - 45% of children have witnessed their mothers being beaten and would be viewed as co-victims.

In South Africa corporal punishment in the home is often given under the guise of discipline. It is said that one in four children are being physically punished daily or weekly with sticks, belts and other instruments in South Africa. Many of these children suffer physical injuries as a result.  Although corporal punishment is banned at schools, a recent study estimates that about 50% of learners still experience it. The impact of violence goes far beyond visible scars.

There are huge psychosocial consequences. Where girls are victimized, the consequences include depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and many other disorders. Boys in turn are prone to manifesting behaviour such as gang involvement and crime. Girls in particular are at risk of sexual assault in later years, becoming victims of intimate partner violence and their victimization as children also affects their emotional availability as parents. Boys have shown to be at risk of perpetrating violence, including rape and violence against their intimate partner, and of engaging in risky behaviour.

The state's obligations to protect children from violence is found in the Children's Act 38 of 2005, Sexual Offences Act 32 of 2007 and Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998. There are also policies aimed to curb violence such as the the Integrated Social Crime Prevention Strategy and the draft Action Plan to Address Violence Against Women and Children.

There are however serious challenges with the implementation of the legislation and programmes. For example according to the law review, the government's policy of only partially funding the NPOs that run prevention and early intervention programmes - coupled with diminishments in donor funding due to the global recession and donors' reluctance to foot the bill for services the government is obligated to provide - is resulting in staff lay- offs and programmes either been scaled back or closed down.

Another problem is that it was estimated that by the third year of implementation of the Children’s Act, South Africa would need 66 329 social workers and 48 660 social auxiliary workers to implement the Act. However, in March 2012 only 16 740 social workers were registered with the South African Council for Social Service Professionals. Of these, merely 9 289 were in public practice serving children and families; the rest were in private practice or no longer practising.

Source: Proudlock P (ed) (2014) South Africa's Progress in Realising Children's Rights: A Law Review. Cape Town: Children's Institute, University of Cape Town & Save the Children South Africa. Read more at:

Compiled by Bertus Preller

Family Law and Divorce Attorney and author of Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation – Random House.

Twitter: bertuspreller



News24 Voices Terms & Conditions.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.