Sexual violence Sexual violence

Child rape

Date: October 2018

Rape is the unlawful and intentional sexual penetration of another person without his or her consent. Put simply, rape occurs when someone forces another person to have sexual intercourse without their consent. It is also a crime for a person to force another person to rape someone (this is known as compelled rape).

This indicator shows the number of counts of rape against a child (under 18 years) as recorded by the South African Police Service in a given financial year.


Data Source South African Police Service crime data, 2013/14 – 2016/17 (child victims only, accessed November 2017). Maps are based on 2016/17 crime data. Analysis by Aislinn Delany & Winnie Sambu, Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town.
Notes 1. Children are defined as persons aged 0 - 17 years. 2. Where no counts of a category of crime were reported, the map appears blank. 'District' boundaries displayed here are an approximation of the municipal district boundaries and are made up of the SAPS precincts that fall within each district, with the precinct boundaries 'dissolved'.
The crime of rape in South Africa is defined by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007, which expanded the legal definition of rape and made it gender neutral, acknowledging that males and females can be both victims and perpetrators of rape.

Rape tends to be under-reported because of the trauma, stigma and fear associated with it. Crime data is widely recognised as an under-estimate when it comes to sexual offences. Surveys can be used to estimate levels of under-reporting by asking how many experiences of sexual offences are reported to authorities, but there is currently no such estimate for children in South Africa. The 2016 national prevalence study found that boys were more disinclined likely not to report than girls, and that familiarity with and fear of the perpetrator were common reasons for children not reporting sexual offences.1

The rape rate for children in 2016/17 stood at 83 rapes per 100,000 children. This includes counts of compelled rape, in which someone forces another person to carry out the rape. This means that for every 100,000 children under 18 years in the country, 83 rapes were recorded in 2016/17. The table below provides the rape rate across province, sex and age group in 2016/17.

The rape rate for children in 2016/17 was highest in the Free State (114 per 100,000); North West (98 per 100,000); Eastern Cape (94 per 100,000) and the Western Cape (91 per 100,000). It was lowest in Limpopo and Gauteng, but even in these provinces the rape rate was 68 and 69 rapes per 100,000 children respectively.

Girls are substantially more likely to be the victims of reported rapes, but boys are the victim of rape too. The national prevalence study on child sexual victimisation found that young males are less likely to report sexual offences, suggesting that these figures are not a reliable reflection of the prevalence of the rape of boys.1 As noted in other studies, the crime data shows that the risk of exposure to sexual violence increases with age, with a rate of 21 rapes per 100,000 children under the age of 5 years, rising to 173 rapes per 100,000 adolescents aged 13 to 17 years.
This indicator is made up of counts of rape and a small number of counts of compelled rape.

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 counts by the total child population (under 18 years) and multiplying the result by 100,000. We used the child population figures generated from the 2016 General Household Survey (Statistics South Africa) to calculate the 2016/17 crime rates (see

This crime data was extracted by SAPS for the Children's Institute in November 2017. SAPS was requested to provide data for all counts of crimes against children (iunder 18 years) in the categories of murder, attempted murder, sexual offences, common assault, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, and neglect and ill-treatment. The last category was not provided. Data on exploitation and trafficking were not requested. These figures represent the number of charges or counts of crime, and not the number of registered case dockets or victims.

The definitions of crimes are based on the definitions given in the manual: 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 here 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.
Crime statistics only scratch the surface when it comes to understanding the scale of violence against children because they reflect only those incidents that fit the narrow definition of a crime, and then only those that are reported to the police. Ideally they should be complemented by other sources of routine data. But in the absence of other reliable administrative data in South Africa - including from the Child Protection Register - 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 crime. For example, an increase in reported counts of rape may indicate an increase in the occurrence of rape, but may also reflect efforts to encourage reporting by, for example, making police stations more accessible and ensuring the presence of specialised 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 age of a victim may be unknown or may be captured incorrectly at station level. In some cases the age and gender of the complainant rather than the victim is captured on the system. 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 that occurred a year or two previously (when she was still a child) will not be reflected in this data. These data quality issues further highlight the fact that crime data should be regarded as a considerable under-estimate of the levels of violence facing children in South Africa.
© 2022
University of Cape Town
Supported byFirst National Bank