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03 June 2005

Factsheet 2 : Overview of research findings

Press Release

There is very little research on the incidence and prevalence of child abuse in South Africa, and available research uses a variety of definitions of child abuse. There are similar problems with national data collection systems, such as those of the police and welfare agencies, which rely on different definitions of abuse. It is essential to standardise the way we collect information on child abuse so that we have reliable national, provincial and local statistics regarding the incidence and nature of child sexual abuse.

The causes of child sexual abuse include: socio-cultural and socio-economic factors, such as unequal power relations between men and women, poverty, unemployment and overcrowding; as well as interpersonal and individual factors such as growing up in a dysfunctional, emotionally abusive family.

The virgin cleansing myth (the idea that sex with a young virgin can cure HIV/AIDS) is probably not a significant cause of child sexual abuse. The evidence suggests that this belief only accounts for a small number of cases. Most men who sexually abuse children probably do not even know their HIV status.

Perpetrators are not a homogenous group and it is difficult to construct profiles of people who abuse children sexually. However, alcohol and substance use often precipitates the sexual abuse of young children. The majority of offenders live in the child?s household or close neighbourhood, and many are likely to be adolescents or youth. In the case of paedophiles in particular, there is strong evidence that they have experienced abuse as children.

Sexual abuse and harassment are major problems in South African schools. One of the important causes of this problem is a strong societal belief that women are subordinate to men. This increases the risk of sexual domination by men in the home, school and community. To reduce sexual violence in schools, a culture of respect for students, clear rules and clear consequences for perpetrators needs to be instilled.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children and child trafficking are significant and growing problems in Southern Africa. However, we do not have good data on the scale of this problem. The main underlying cause is likely to be the fact that many families live in deep poverty, made worse by HIV/AIDS. Children become more vulnerable to exploitation in such circumstances.

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