Levels of violence against children

Children have a right to be free of all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation. Click on the links below to view statistics on the prevalence of violence against children in South Africa. In practice, different types of violence often overlap. Sexual abuse may be accompanied by physical violence, while most forms of violence involve some emotional or psychological harm. As children grow up, the sorts of violence they are exposed to change and may vary by gender. 

Drawing on a range of data sources gives us a better sense of the "bigger picture", and disaggregating the data helps us to understand the patterns of violence. But there is limited routine data available for monitoring violence against children in South Africa, and the global challenge of under-reporting means that estimates based on administrative data are just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, crime data reflects only those incidents reported to the police, and the analysis of crimes against children is only possible if the victim's age is accurately recorded. Surveys are likely to capture incidents that have not been reported to authorities, but prevalence surveys are not conducted regularly and often do not provide data below provincial level. it would be possible to paint a more comprehensive picture if statistics were available from the National Child Protection Register and other routine sources.

Physical violencePhysical violence

WHO defines physical violence as the intentional use of physical force against a child that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in harm to the child's health, survival, development or dignity.

Sexual violenceSexual violence

Sexual violence includes all forms of sexual victimisation and involves the use of a child for sexual gratification usually by an adult, or in some instances by another child, who is in a position of power, responsibility or trust over the child.

Mental violenceMental violence

All physical and sexual violence involves some form of emotional or psychological harm. Mental violence is also commonly referred to as emotional, psychological or mental abuse.


Neglect can involve isolated incidents or form a pattern of failure on the part of a parent or caregiver to provide for the development and well-being of the child, where the caregiver is in a position to do so.

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University of Cape Town
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