Physical violencePhysical violence

Common assault

Date: February 2018


Common assault is the unlawful and intentional applying of force to the body of another person, or threatening immediate physical violence. This indicator shows the number of counts of common assault against a child reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) in a given financial year.


Data Source South African Police Service crime data, 2008/09 – 2016/17 (accessed November 2017).
Analysis by Aislinn Delany & Winnie Sambu, Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town.
Notes Children are defined as persons aged 0 – 17 years.
Maps are based on SAPS crime data for 2016/17 (child victims only). Click on the individual districts or precincts to view the exact crime count - where no counts of this category of crime was reported (0 count), the map appears blank.
The 'district' boundaries displayed here are an approximation of the local government district boundaries. They are made up of the precincts that fall within each district, with the precinct boundaries 'dissolved'.
As with sexual offences, crime data for assault is unreliable because many victims of assault do not report these crimes to the police – particularly in cases when the victim and perpetrator may be related or when the physical punishment of children is seen as normal. Based on the reported crime data, the overall rate for common assault was 59 assaults per 100,000 children in 2916/17. The table below provides the rates of common assault across province, sex and age group in 2016/17.

Reports of common assault were substantially higher in the Western Cape than any other provinces, at 207 counts of common assault per 100,000 children. The next highest were the Northern Cape (107 per 100,000 children) and the Free State (97 per 100,000). Reported common assault was only slightly higher among boys in 2016/17, and was more prevalence among adolescents.
A crime rate describes the number of crimes reported to law enforcement agencies per 100,000 total population. It is calculated by dividing the number of reported crimes by the total population and multiplying the result by 100,000. We have used the population figures in the demography section of Children Count, which draw on the mid-year population estimates by Statistics South Africa, to calculate the 2016 crime rates (see

The crime data was extracted by the SAPS for the Children's Institute in November 2017. The request to SAPS specified that data should be provided for crimes against children (i.e. those counts in which the age of the victim was less than 18 years) in the categories of murder, attempted murder, sexual offences (to be disaggregated by crime category), common assault, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, and neglect and ill-treatment. The last category was not provided. Crimes of exploitation and trafficking were not requested.

The definitions of crimes are based on the definitions given in the South African Police Service (2012) Crime definitions to be utilised by police officials for the purposes of the opening of case dockets and the registration thereof on the crime administration system. Issued by Consolidation Notice 2/2012. V.001. The data is presented by financial year rather than calendar year, as is the case with the official crime statistics. The financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March of the following year. This was calculated by extracting the month and year in which the incident was reported from the Crime Administration System (CAS) number.

Crime statistics only scratch the surface when it comes to understanding the scale of violence against children. This is because they reflect only those incidents that fit the narrow definition of a crime – and only those that are reported to the police. They therefore considerably underestimate the levels of violence children experience in South Africa. But in the absence of other reliable administrative data, crime statistics are one of the few sources of surveillance data available for monitoring violence against children nationally.

A challenge with using crime data for monitoring trends over time is that it is not clear what is driving an increase – or decrease – in reported counts of a particular crime. For example, an increase in reported counts of rape may indicate an actual increase in the occurrence of rape; but it could also reflect efforts to encourage reporting by, for example, making police stations more accessible and accommodating, and ensuring the presence of specially training police officers.

Crime rates are useful for taking population sizes into account, and allow for more accurate comparisons between areas and over time. But up-to-date population estimates, particularly for children, are not readily available for smaller areas such as districts or police stations. Considering crime statistics at these lower levels is important because national and provincial level statistics hide large disparities in the levels of crime across different areas.

The primary challenge for child-centred analysis of crime data is the (un)reliability of the age data. The accuracy of victim data depends on the availability of information and the training of the police official capturing the data at station level. But quality assurance issues have been raised, such as cases in which the age and gender of the complainant rather than the victim are captured on the system at station level. In addition, the recorded age of the victim is his or her age at the time the crime was reported, rather than when the crime took place. Therefore, an assault reported by an 18 year old girl that occurred when she was 17 (and still a child) will not be reflected in this data. These data quality issues further highlight the fact that these crime figures should be regarded as a considerable under-estimate of the levels of violence facing children in South Africa.