Background Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children is a major problem in South Africa, with severe negative outcomes for survivors. To date, no known studies have used data directly obtained from community-based samples of children to investigate prevalence, incidence, locations and perpetrators of child abuse victimisation. This study aims to investigate prevalence and incidence, perpetrators, and locations of child abuse victimisation in South Africa using a multicommunity sample.
Methods 3515 children aged 10–17 years (56.6% female) were interviewed from all households in randomly selected census enumeration areas in two South African provinces. Child self-report questionnaires were completed at baseline and at 1-year follow-up (96.7% retention).
Results Prevalence was 56.3% for lifetime physical abuse (18.2% past-year incidence), 35.5% for lifetime emotional abuse (12.1% incidence) and 9% for lifetime sexual abuse (5.3% incidence). 68.9% of children reported any type of lifetime victimisation and 27.1% reported lifetime multiple abuse victimisation. Main perpetrators of abuse were reported: for physical abuse, primary caregivers and teachers; for emotional abuse, primary caregivers and relatives; and for sexual abuse, girlfriend/boyfriends or other peers.
Conclusions This is the first study assessing current self-reported child abuse through a large, community-based sample in South Africa. Findings of high rates of physical, emotional and sexual abuse demonstrate the need for targeted and effective interventions to prevent incidence and re-victimisation.