Skip to main content

Widespread child abuse costs South Africa 5% of its GDP, says study

Violence against children cost South Africa $15.8 billion in 2015 – just under 5% of GDP, according to research published in January.

The study used data modelling to project the long-term social and economic burden of the high rate of violence in South Africa, where one in three experience physical abuse during childhood.

The paper estimated that interpersonal violence across the population could fall by 16% if children did not witness violence in the home. Rates of drug abuse could be cut by 14% if sexual violence against children were prevented.

“The violence cost in terms of GDP in the South African economy is one of the highest I have seen,” said Deborah Fry, one of the study’s authors, “largely because of how prevalent violence is in the region.”

South Africa’s child homicide rate is more than double the global average. 29% of all sexual offences reported to the police in 2013-14 involved children under the age of 18 – a rate of 51 child sexual victimisation cases every day.

“The burden that violence places on society in terms of harming its potential for economic development is crucial,” said Fry. “It makes a much stronger investment case than moral grounds alone.”

The paper compiled evidence on the prevalence of physical, sexual and psychological violence in childhood from 24 published studies. It calculated the probability of a given outcome, such as self-harm or drug abuse, in children experiencing different types of violence.

The economic costs of those outcomes were calculated in disability-adjusted-life-years, a time-based measure that calculates economic output lost to premature death, disability and illness.

The study called for greater investment in prevention services and improvement to registers of sex offenders.

“South Africa is not unique: this is very much a global trend that we have seen in other studies on the burden of violence we have conducted in other countries,” said Fry.

A report by Childfund Alliance in 2014 estimated that the global cost of violence against children could be as high as $7 trillion.

A Save the Children report in 2015 found that of $174 billion spent on overseas development worldwide, less than 0.5% was dedicated to ending violence against children.

“The Ministries that work on preventing violence against children are often the weakest and least funded,” said Fry.

“It’s a fact that this issue and this sector has been grossly underfunded,” said Kathleen Cravero, President of the Oak Foundation.

“There’s a broad-based fatalism around this issue because people think that violence is deeply rooted in our cultures and societies – it’s something that’s always going to be with us. Then there’s the idea that we don’t know what to do.

The truth is that we know what works to prevent violence against children. With investment and political will, we can end violence against children. We already have the solutions.”

In 2017, South Africa joined the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, an inter-agency coalition to end child maltreatment by 2030. A high-level political committee is currently finalising a national action plan to combat violence in childhood.

The South African Department of Social Development did not respond to Apolitical’s request for comment prior to publication.

* This article first appeared at Apolitical. End Violence has partnered with Apolitical to create a global policy topic around Violence Prevention on the Apolitical platform - bringing together the best ideas and experts from around the world in violence prevention.

Share this post