Longitudinal perspective on violence in the lives of South African children and youth

A little bit is known about the tip of the iceberg of violence against children - serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse, usually attributed to the violent predisposition of atypical individuals, whether in or out of the family. Much less is known about widespread and continuous violence in the everyday lives of children. A recently published study aims to give an overview of exposure to and experience of violence, as well as perpetration of violence, across childhood in South Africa by using a large corpus of longitudinal data collected in the Birth to Twenty Plus cohort.

Over the past two decades, only 1% of the sample had not been exposed to or experienced violence in their home, school and/or community. Two-thirds of children of school going age were reported as having been exposed to community violence, and more than half of all children to violence in their home. Reports of sexual violence increased from 10% among primary school-aged children to ~30% among adolescents and young adults. Over the course of their lives, ~40% of children were reported as having been exposed to or being victims of five or six of the categories of violence coded in this analysis. High levels of violence perpetration were reported across childhood. Age and gender differences in exposure to and experience and perpetration of violence were evident, and all categories of violence were more prevalent among poorer and more disadvantaged groups.

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