The violent lives of Soweto’s children

The violent lives of Soweto’s childrenSchool children (Credit: UNICEF)

Ninety nine percent of children involved in a Soweto study have been exposed to extreme forms of violence at some point in their lives, according to results from the Birth to Twenty Plus study published in the South African Medical Journal on Wednesday.

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Researchers have been following about 2000 children, and their mothers, from birth for 27 years and found that only a handful of them, now adults, have not been exposed to extreme violence in their homes, schools, communities or in intimate relationships.

According to the study most have not only been exposed to violence but have been victims themselves. Four in five primary school children and 90 percent of children, when in high school, reported having suffered violent incidents.

Moreover, a third of children were found to have experienced all forms of violence that were researched including exposure to violence and being the victim of non-sexual and sexual violence.

“Children hear gunshots outside their houses, see learners being beaten up by bullies at school, witness physical violence between members of their family, and hear of rape and sexual assault of friends,” noted a press release.

Long-term impact of violence

Experiencing such high levels of violence at such a young age can lead to “poor mental health, impaired social relationships and substance abuse, with implications for their educational progression, work productivity and social stability”.

Just last year 5-year- old Rikson Mongwe was violently killed in one of Soweto’s sprawling townships outside of Johannesburg. In what is believed to have been a ritual murder, the child was stabbed allegedly by a 21-year- old male suspect.

The study authors note that their findings are not unique to Soweto and children across the country experience extreme levels of violence at all stages of their lives.

“Exposed children are at risk of becoming insensitive to future violence exposures, uncaring towards others, and becoming violent themselves,” noted the study. “The personal and social short- and long-term costs of violence are very high, with effects into subsequent generations, yet SA does not have a strong focus on reducing violence and children’s exposure to and experience of violence… Effective and sustainable interventions are needed to address violence as a major public health problem.” – Health-e News