OPINION | Long-term effects of violence against children
Violence against children is prevalent in South Africa. This is alarming considering its long-term effects on their health and well-being.
Tackling violence against children is critical to the achievement of development goals as set out in the National Development Plan (2030) and also the 2030 Agenda on sustainable development.
The World Health Organisation notes that violence against children includes all forms of violence inflicted by parents, guardians, caregivers, peers, romantic partners or strangers on those under the age of 18. This violence can, for instance, result in death.
The national crime statistics, released in September 2018, showed that the murder of boys and girls has increased by 20% and 10% respectively. The Western Cape had 279 reported cases of such murders. This is the highest nationally.
The Northern Cape was lowest with 19 cases. Overall, 985 children were murdered in the country in this period, more than the 861 murdered in war-torn Afghanistan in 2017.
The murder rate of children in South Africa is estimated at 5.5 murders per 100000 children, which is twice the global average.
Evidence shows that most murders of boys were committed by a person known to the child, but not related to the child. However, in the case of children between the ages of 0 to 4 years mothers committed 53.1% of the murders.
Statistics on the maltreatment of children in South Africa show that one in five children report some experience of sexual abuse, one in three some form of physical abuse, one in six report emotional abuse, one in eight report neglect and one in six had witnessed some form of violence.
Many youth and children in South Africa live in very violent environments. Failure to address this means that the culture of violence they are exposed to is likely to entrench and reproduce itself.
Indeed, the government, the private sector, local communities and all other stakeholders have to work together to craft long-term solutions.
The national crime statistics show an over-concentration of violent crimes in metros and larger cities and towns. This could be a consequence of factors such as inequality, social exclusion, (youth) unemployment, poverty, and substance and alcohol abuse.
Work done in low-income communities has shown that young males who are exposed to, and experience, violence are inclined to be cruel and violent themselves and this drives and perpetuates the cycle. Still, a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing violence is not recommended.
The Institute for Security Studies states that it is critical to understand what works and to invest in the generation of evidence that will inform interventions.
Tackling violence against children, and also widespread poverty and inequality, has to be urgently prioritised if South Africa is to achieve a broad range of development goals including those on mental health, poverty and social well-being.
Critical to this is investing in the generation of robust evidence to inform all interventions. South Africa’s children and youth desperately need these interventions.
Lorato Mchunu and Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo (PhD) are based at the Youth Development Institute of South Africa, a collaborative initiative of the University of Johannesburg and the National Youth Development Agency