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Latest Child Gauge launched

Children in SA face among the worst bullying across the globe — report

In general, children in SA are under far more strain than children in most countries and they often live in fear.

While some improvement is noted in various aspects, the plight of children in SA has declined.
While some improvement is noted in various aspects, the plight of children in SA has declined.
Image: 123RF/Artit Oubkaew

Levels of bullying, victimisation and school violence in SA are among the highest in the world, placing a heavy burden on the mental health of children.

In general, children in SA are under far more strain than children in most countries and they often live in fear.

This is according to the latest Child Gauge, which notes that children in SA presented with the lowest scores for feeling safe in comparison to other countries. 

More than 10% felt unsafe at home, more than 13% at school and more than 30% in their neighbourhood and community.

These are some of the findings presented in the Child Gauge — edited by Mark Tomlinson, Sharon Kleintjes and Lori Lake of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town.

It was launched on Wednesday and focuses specifically on mental health, which is an ongoing problem for SA youth, but one which has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Children face fear in many aspects of their lives and this has an effect on mental health.

According to Linda Richter, emeritus professor from the University of the Witwatersrand, “In a country beset by poverty, inequality, social exclusion and violence, our most important responsibility is to our children and adolescents. We need to identify those who face difficulties early on and try to rectify or ameliorate these problems so that children can continue their lifelong journey with strength and resources.”

As the country deals with the fallout of the pandemic, the situation has worsened.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified pressures on children and adolescents and, as a result, a whole generation’s mental health and wellbeing has been jeopardised,” writes advocate Bongani Majola, chair of the SA Human Rights Commission. 

“Children and adolescents feel afraid, angry and anxious because their routines, education, recreation and family finances have been disrupted.”

Another major problem is sexual victimisation.

“This rarely occurs in isolation and is often associated with other forms of violence, such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and family violence, with 25% to 45% of children in SA witnessing domestic violence perpetrated by their mother’s intimate partner,” according to the research.

Other notable statistics — some worrying and some encouraging — include:

  • 36% of children live in households where nobody is earning an income through employment or self-employment (up from 30% just before the pandemic);
  • 39% of children (8-million) are below the food poverty line;
  • in March 2022, 12.9-million children received the child support grant (a slight drop from the previous year); and 252,000 children received the foster child grant (a substantial and consistent decline in numbers over the past decade); 
  • under-five mortality decreased from 39 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015 to 28 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020; 
  • the infant mortality rate has also declined and is estimated at 21 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020. The neonatal mortality rate, however, has remained stable at 12 per 1,000 live births over a six-year period; 
  • a fifth (19%) of children travel far to reach their primary healthcare facility and 83.5% of children are fully immunised in their first year; 
  • children’s access to education has made significant strides, with a reported attendance rate of 97% in 2020. Access is also increasing in the preschool years, with 93% of children aged 5 to 6 attending some kind of educational institution or care facility;  
  • however, this does not necessarily translate into improved educational outcomes or progress through school. A third of young people aged 15 to 24 (35%) are not in employment, education or training 

“Most children and young people in SA experience ongoing violence and multiple adversities. There is no easy solution or quick fix in terms of violence prevention and treatment of the effects of violence on child and adolescent mental health,” the Gauge concludes.



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