More than half of SA's children have suffered physical abuse, according to a new report.
The only report to provide an annual snapshot of the status of South African children, the South African Child Gauge 2014 claims that despite 20 years of democracy, violence against children remains widespread - with efforts to combat the problem “slow”.
“Violence against children is widely accepted and considered a natural part of life,” according to the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, which published the report.
Yet being subject to violence at a young age causes long-lasting psychological, social and neurological damage which stops people reaching their full potential in life.
The effects reach further, with “lifelong social and economic costs to the country”, the report said.
Here are four distressing facts from the report:
1. Violence against children is massively underestimated
Crime statistics concerning children are patchy - with no police figures on child neglect or ill treatment collected in the last five years.
Worse still, police only began to separate sexual assault on children from adults two years ago.
When they did, they found the child victims accounted for a vast 40% of all sexual offences in 2011/12.
That year 26,000 children reported offences to the police - but the real figure is likely to be much higher as only one in nine cases of sexual assault is reported.
School surveys help, but are “generally weak” when it comes to flagging up sexual victimisation or physical abuse in the home.
2. But the figures we do have are shocking
According to the UCT report, survey data suggests that more than 50% of children have suffered physical abuse at the hands of caregivers, teachers or relatives.
With 18.6 million children under the age of 18 at the last census count, the data suggests that potentially 9.3 million children in South Africa have suffered physical abuse.
Yet official police figures show that in 2013/14 just 45,230 contact crimes were counted against children - including 22,781 sexual offences.
That’s less than 1% of those thought have suffered physical abuse.
The “weak and ineffective” surveillance systems we have in place make it impossible to know exactly how many children are affected by violence, the report said.
3. Corporal punishment remains rife in South Africa
Corporal and humiliating punishment was banned nearly two decades ago - yet 50% of school children still report experiencing physical punishment at school.
According to the report most of these cases go unreported and schools fail to enforce the ban properly - or to do anything about the teachers who practice it.
It is “widely accepted” and has yet to be banned in the home - where it is even more widespread.
Almost 60% of parents report smacking their children and a third report using a belt or object.
In the Eastern Cape for example a study showed that more than one in four children reported being injured as a result of physical punishment and recalled being punished daily or weekly with objects such as a belt, stick or whip.
4. The government isn’t doing nearly enough
In 2013 almost 70% of the people working to prevent violence against children - including department officials, service providers and academics - said that South Africa’s efforts to prevent child maltreatment were “inadequate”.
The report claimed that lack of resources and trained staff were the key problem, with funding for rolling out the measures put in place by the Children’s act falling hugely short.
At least R15.9bn is needed for all the Children’s Act services - but in 2014/15 the government had only allocated enough money to cover 45% of the costs.
Though the government’s budget is expected to grow by 6% by 2016/17 the allocations are expected to remain “well below” the estimated costs.
“Put simply, the budget for all Children’s Act services is totally inadequate,” the report concluded.
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