One in three young South Africans are sexually abused, a new study has shown.
The “Optimus Study: Sexual Victimisation of Children in South Africa” was commissioned by the UBS Optimus Foundation and conducted by researchers from UCT and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention.
It showed that 784 967 young people in South Africa are likely to have been victims of sexual abuse by the age of 17.
The number of victims is enough to fill the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg eight times, and of this 351 214 cases occurred last year alone.
The study drew from a population survey of 15- to 17-year-old adolescents from schools (4 086 participants) and households (5 631 participants) in a series of in-depth interviews.
The findings have shown that boys and girls are equally vulnerable to sexual abuse throughout their lifetime.
The researchers found girls were more likely to experience contact sexual abuse than boys, who reported higher levels of no-contact sexual abuse.
In terms of reporting incidents, 31 percent of girls reported sexual abuse, while young males were not inclined to report it.
The study advises that good parenting can be a valuable factor in protecting a child from sexual abuse, and states that there is an association between parents knowing the whereabouts of their children and who they spend their time with, and less sexual abuse being reported.
The report recommends policy changes so that a regulated framework can be developed for reporting, referral and management of sexual offences.
A lack of such protocol means that too many children who experience sexual abuse face delays in justice.
Recommendations also include strengthening the roles of schools with regards to safety and life skills curricula that directly target sex, gender and violence.
The study argues that substance abuse programmes can play a role in preventing sexual abuse since parental substance misuse is associated with sexual abuse of children.
Christina Nomdo, executive director of Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child abuse and Neglect (Rapcan), said: “We applaud the rigorous scientific study commissioned by UBS because it provides important baseline data.
“We believe this information should be used to accelerate efforts towards prevention of violence against children.”
Child rights group Molo Songololo’s director, Patric Solomons, said: “We need to keep our children in school, increase organised and supervised recreation and activities for them, especially in poor communities, and keep an eye on our children.”
“We need to make sure that all government and businesses adopt a child-protection policy and approach, while taking the best interests of the children into consideration.”