One third of children in South Africa at risk of online violence, exploitation and abuse

UNICEF-commissioned ‘Disrupting Harm Study’ reveals the benefits and dangers of online access and behaviours among children and parents. This study also reaffirms the importance of better protecting children from exposure to the dangers online that can so affect their emotional and physical wellbeing, says Ms. Christine Muhigana, Representative of UNICEF South Africa.

More than 95 per cent of children in South Africa have access to the Internet regularly, but their risky online behaviour can expose them to online violence, exploitation and abuse, according to a new UNICEF report. 

The ‘Disrupting Harm Study’ shows that children primarily use the Internet to learn something new, to do schoolwork, or to watch video clips. However, a lack of awareness about the dangers online and access without parental consent present a risky scenario where vulnerable children can be exposed to online violence, exploitation and abuse.

“The online world for children presents many positive opportunities, from accessing educational resources to connecting with their peers,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative. “But this study also reaffirms the importance of better protecting children from exposure to the dangers online that can so affect their emotional and physical wellbeing,” added Muhigana. 

UNICEF South Africa and the Department of Social Development commissioned the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) at the University of South Africa (UNISA) to conduct the survey, which forms part of an international study among 14 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. 

Among the findings are that:

  • 70% of children surveyed use the Internet without parental consent 
  • 25% confirmed that they have added people whom they have never met face-to-face to their friends or contacts list
  • 18% have sent a photo or video of themselves to a person they have never met face-to-face  
  • 67% of child participants who have seen sexual images were exposed to them on an online device 

The study further reveals that children who have been sexually exploited online prefer not to share their experiences or trauma about the incident, which in-turn can have a devastating long-term impact on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. 

Children and their caregivers urgently need more information and support regarding online safety, with only 41 per cent of children surveyed having received any information on online safety.  

These findings once again highlight the importance of a collaborative approach to online safety and protection, which must involve children and young people themselves, caregivers, the technology industry, academia and government, as well as the critical need for support services for victims of online violence, exploitation, and abuse.

The Disrupting Harm Study can be accessed at:   https://www.unicef.org/southafrica/reports/disrupting-harm-study-south-africa

 About the Study:

The 2020 Disrupting Harm Study for South Africa represents the outcome of a nationally representative survey that captures the views of 2,643 children (9 to 17 years) and 1,393 parents regarding online behaviour, wellness, and wellbeing. The geographic spread of the survey covered a total of 176 cities and towns across South Africa and included a representative sample of the population across gender and age.

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere to build a better world for everyone.

For more information, please contact: 

Toby Fricker, Tel: +27 61 418 7486, trfricker@unicef.org

Sudeshan Reddy, Tel: +27 82 561 3970, sureddy@unicef.org

Media Contacts
UN entities involved in this initiative
UNICEF
United Nations Children’s Fund