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The high price of violence against children

Thursday 24 November 2016

by Shain Germaner at The Star

Johannesburg - As the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign begins on Friday, a new study has revealed that violence against the youngest members of our society cost the country over R238 billion last year.

Save the Children South Africa, a children’s advocacy organisation, on Wednesday released its latest study on the long-term effects of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.

“It was important for us to quantify the cost of violence against children on our GDP (gross domestic product) to highlight the urgency with which we need to act,” said chief executive Gugu Ndebele.

“Violence against children takes all forms, and in varying degrees impacts on our economy. Infringing on the rights of children is just too costly for us to ignore anymore,” she said.

The study, conducted through the universities of Cape Town, Edinburgh and Georgia State, acknowledged that the high cost of child abuse could be calculated only with what data was available, meaning the cases that are reported and documented. The implication is that the unreported abuse of children may be costing South Africa even more.

The study revealed that victims of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse were significantly more likely to suffer from mental illness, abuse drugs and suffer from other terrible effects.

The study also determined the economic impact of child abuse by calculating the “disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)” lost to each type of violence.

DALY refers to a year of healthy life lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

According to the calculation, last year South Africa lost 390 905 years of healthy life from sexual violence against children alone, which cost R28.6bn or 0.7 percent of GDP.

Physical violence led to the loss of more than 1.4 million years of healthy living, costing R103.8bn. Emotional abuse amounted to R6.3bn.

The remainder of the country’s financial loss was attributed to productivity loss due to emotional and physical abuse.

The study said that physical violence against children reduced the victim’s future monthly earnings by 11.7 percent, on average, while victims of emotional violence had a drop of 9.2 percent.

“We knew that it’s no longer enough to simply address the symptoms. It’s no longer enough to continue putting sticky plasters on broken bones. It’s no longer enough to wipe away the tears.

“That’s why Save the Children South Africa is embarking on a crusade to rid our nation of this scourge once and for all. We were adamant that these findings should be a catalyst for change. This study provided the research we needed to develop high-impact programmes that will drastically reduce violence against children,” said Ndebele.