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  1. What is child abuse?
  2. Emotional abuse
  3. Neglect
  4. Physical abuse
  5. Sexual abuse
  6. Exploitation
  7. Who abuses children and why?
  8. Is it ever the child’s fault?
  9. What can I do?

This means child abuse can be something that you do, or don’t do (but should), on purpose, that harms a child in any way.  There are different types of child abuse, but it is important to remember that many children experience more than one kind of abuse in their lives.

There are different types of child abuse, but it is important to remember that many children experience more than one kind of abuse in their lives.

  1. Emotional/ verbal abuse
  2. Neglect
  3. Physical abuse
  4. Sexual abuse
  5. Exploitation

Emotional/ verbal abuse

Emotional and verbal abuse is any non-physical action or lack of action that decreases a child’s sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.

Each of us might be guilty of having spoken unkindly to a child or having criticized her / him too harshly, but emotional abuse is consistent and chronic (ongoing, long-term) behaviour.

For example

  • telling the child that he or she is unwanted or unloved
  • not showing any interest in the child, not showing affection
  • not listening to the child
  • not validating the child’s feelings
  • breaking promises
  • lying to the child
  • cutting the child off in conversation
  • inconsistent and unpredictable rules
  • maligning (‘bad-mouthing’) the other parent, or demanding that the child take sides (in situations of divorce, separation or marital conflict)
  • favouritism among siblings
  • shaming or humiliating the child
  • calling a child names
  • criticising
  • belittling
  • demeaning
  • berating
  • mocking
  • using language or taking action that makes the child feel worthless
  • terrorising
    • screaming, yelling, swearing
    • threatening
    • accusing
    • blaming
    • insulting
    • threatening or punishing with abandonment, harm or death
    • setting a child up for failure
    • manipulating
    • taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults
  • isolating
    • keeping a child from peers and positive activities
    • confining a child to small area
    • forbidding play or other stimulating experiences (see neglect)
  • corrupting
    • engaging a child in criminal acts
    • telling lies to justify your own immoral or criminal actions or ideas
    • encouraging misbehaviour / immoral behaviour

Risk factors for emotional abuse

There are a number factors which increase the chances that someone might be emotionally abusive, such as

  • poor anger/stress management skills or emotional self-regulation (ability to manage one’s own emotions, and not be overwhelmed or controlled by them)
  • poor bonding with the child/ren
  • stormy, conflictual relationships with other adults
  • disrespect for authority
  • a history of violence or abuse
  • untreated mental illness, alcoholism or substance abuse

Remember there is no justification for abusing a child in any way.  If you or someone you know are struggling with any of these issues, it is your responsibility to get help, so that you are able to raise your children in a nurturing and caring environment. Childline is here to support parents, caregivers and educators too – call 116 to find out what resources are available.

Signs of emotional abuse in a child


  • delays in development (failure to thrive)
  • wetting bed, pants
  • health problems like ulcers, skin disorders, headaches or tummy aches
  • weight loss / obesity or weight fluctuation (see eating disorders below)


  • habits like thumb-sucking, nail- or hair-biting, rocking
  • learning problems or learning disabilities and developmental delays
  • overly compliant or defensive
  • extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal (poor emotional self-regulation)
  • depression, anxieties, phobias, sleep disorders
  • suicidal thoughts and behaviour
  • eating disorders
  • destructive or anti-social behaviours (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying)
  • behaviour that is inappropriate for age (too adult / too infantile)

Effects of verbal / emotional abuse

Verbal abuse can undermine your child’s self-esteem, damage her/his ability to trust others and form healthy relationships, and can chip away at academic and social skills. In fact, current research shows that verbal abuse of children can be just as destructive as physical and sexual abuse and puts them in as much risk for depression and anxiety.

Child neglect is a form of child abuse – when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection and support needed for a child’s health, safety and well-being. Neglect is the failure to provide for a child’s physical, emotional and educational needs.


NOTE: There is a difference between caregivers who don’t have the resources to be able to provide for all their children’s needs, and those who neglect their children on purpose.


Child neglect includes:

  • intentional failure to provide adequate nutrition, protection, clothing, medical or dental care
  • lack of supervision, educational opportunities and intellectual / developmental stimulation, and proper hygiene
  • deprivation of sleep
  • negligence that compromises a child’s safety (eg. not ensuring that your children are in a car seat or are wearing a seatbelt; driving with children while under the influence of alcohol or drugs)
  • failure to provide emotional support and nurturance
  • misappropriation / misuse of a child’s finances (eg. Government grant; inheritance or trust fund)

Signs of neglect in a child

  • malnutrition
  • failure to thrive
  • illness or injuries that persist due to non-treatment
  • unwashed appearance
  • inadequate or inappropriate clothing
  • lack of a stable caretaker (child is without adult supervision most of the time)
  • low self-esteem
  • withdrawal
  • being too eager to please others
  • inability to develop attachments and give or receive affection
  • hyper-vigilance
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • lack of trust
  • lack of personal boundaries
  • attention-seeking or even disruptive behaviour to attract others

Impact of neglect on the child

Long term neglect can result in the limited growth and development of the child, intellectually, physically and emotionally. It can lead to poor self-esteem, a lack of trust, difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships, as well as long-term depression, anxiety and a range of other psychological disorders.

Physical abuse of a child is when a person causes any non-accidental, physical injury to a child. Physical abuse takes many forms, for example

  • slapping, hitting, beating with one’s hand or any other object
  • kicking
  • burning
  • pulling hair
  • sticking with pins or sharp objects
  • suffocation
  • strangulation
  • locking a child up in a small space over a long period of time without access to food, water or a toilet
  • over/under-medicating
  • harmful, unjustified/excessive physical restraint (disabled children)
  • force-feeding
  • “shaken baby syndrome” – the damage caused to a baby’s brain as a result of being shaken

NOTE: Many parents and caregivers, as well as teachers believe that corporal punishment is necessary in order to discipline children.  However, extensive research has conclusively shown that corporal punishment (physical ‘discipline’) is detrimental to children’s health and development.  For this reason, corporal punishment is illegal in schools, and in the home.

Childline Gauteng offers Positive Parenting workshops and talks in order to share ideas for positive discipline approaches and to support parents and caregivers as they choose to move to more effective and non-harmful methods of parenting. Call 116 to book a Positive Parenting workshop at your school, crèche, church or community centre.

Follow us on social media where we share tips, links and resources for Positive Parenting (links here)

Signs and symptoms of physical abuse

Physical abuse causes physical, emotional/psychological, and developmental damage, such as

  • bruises, fractures, welts, lacerations, blisters, burns, bite marks, cuts, and scratches
  • any injury to a child who is not crawling yet
  • internal injuries, brain damage
  • broken bones, sprains, dislocated joints
  • repeated injuries along with unlikely explanations by the caregiver or the child
  • injuries at different stages of healing
  • internal injuries, brain damage
  • frequency, timing and history of injuries – where a pattern emerges (frequent, after weekends, vacations, school absences)
  • timid and fearful behaviour – the child seems afraid of parents or other adults
  • being afraid to go home
  • poor school performance
  • repeated absences from school with inadequate explanation
  • aggressive behaviour – aggression toward peers, pets, other animals
  • withdrawal, depression, anxiety
  • wears long sleeves out of season (to cover bruises and injuries)
  • violent themes in fantasy play, art, etc
  • nightmares, insomnia (not able to sleep)
  • the child reports severe discipline, and possible injuries
  • immaturity, acting out, emotional and behaviour extremes
  • self-destructive behaviour or attitudes

Long-term impact of physical abuse

  • emotional and psychological harm (eg. depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts/behaviour)
  • a breakdown of the relationship between the child and the abusive adult
  • oppositional and/or delinquent behaviour
  • aggressive behaviour towards others (eg. bullying, getting into fights)
  • increased risk of becoming abusive in adult relationships
  • the use of violence to handle problems
  • self-harming/high risk behaviours (eg. substance abuse; cutting)
  • lifelong injury, death

Signs that a parent or caregiver may be physically abusing their child

  • can’t or won’t explain the child’s injuries, or explains them in a way that doesn’t make sense
  • displays aggression to the child or is overly anxious about the child’s behaviour
  • indicates that the child is not trustworthy, a liar, evil, a troublemaker
  • delays or prevents medical care for the child
  • takes the child to different doctors or hospitals
  • keeps the child from attending school, church, clubs
  • has a history of violence and/or abuse

NOTE: if you are struggling to manage your anger, stress, frustration, and other emotions, and are worried that you might, or have already hurt your child/ren, please call Childline 116 for assistance – we are here for you too.

Child abuse is any action, or lack of action, between a child and another person, which results in non-accidental (purposeful) harm to the child’s physical, emotional, and/or developmental wellbeing.

Child sexual abuse includes any contact between a child and an adult in which the child is used for sexual stimulation, and/or financial gain of the perpetrator. It may also be committed by a child (a person under the age of 18) when that child is older than the victim, or is in position of power or control over the child.

Sexual abuse is called incest when the perpetrator is a family member.


Sexual abuse includes

  • touching a child’s genitals or making a child touch the perpetrator’s genitals
  • oral sex
  • penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth with any body part (finger, tongue, penis), or object, for sexual reasons
  • showing a child pornographic images or videos, or using a child to produce child abuse images (a.k.a. child pornography*)
  • voyeurism or peeping at a child changing, bathing, etc, without the child’s knowledge
  • making a child view a sex act
  • making a child view or show sex organs
  • exhibitionism (flashing or exposing one’s genitals)
  • inappropriate sexual talk
  • attempting to win the trust of a child as the first step to sexual abuse (grooming)
* NB: According to The Films and Publication Films Act 65 of 1996 and further Amendments Act

If a child takes a “selfie”, or a picture of a friend in which their private parts are visible, or a sexual act is (or appears to be) taking place, this constitutes the production of child abuse images (child pornography).

Having that image/video on your device constitutes possession of child abuse imagery.

Sharing that image/video with anyone else constitutes distribution of child abuse imagery.

All of these are offences and will result in criminal prosecution.

It is therefore essential that you make your children aware of the consequences of such actions, and monitor your children’s use of smart phones and other devices.

Signs of sexual abuse in a child

It is important to remember that every child is different, therefore the way their symptoms present will also often differ from one child to another.  Below is list of signs and symptoms to look out for


  • difficulty sitting, walking
  • urinary or bowel problems
  • torn, stained, bloody underwear
  • bleeding, bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area
  • frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections
  • any sexually transmitted infection (STI) or related symptoms
  • pregnancy


  • doesn’t want to change clothes (eg. for PE)
  • overdresses (wearing big, baggy clothes, covering up as much as possible even when it is hot)
  • withdrawn, depressed, anxious
  • eating disorders, preoccupation with body
  • aggression, delinquency, poor peer relationships
  • poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence
  • sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance
  • substance abuse, running away, recklessness, suicide attempts
  • sleep disturbance, fear of bedtime, nightmares, bed wetting, soiling (after the child has successfully potty trained)
  • sexual acting out, excessive/inappropriate masturbation (link on the word masturbation to take the reader to normal sexual development info)
  • unusual, inappropriate, excessive or repetitive self-soothing behaviours (hand-washing, pacing, rocking, masturbation, etc.)
  • sexual behaviour or knowledge that is advanced or unusual
  • reports any of the above examples of sexual abuse

Long-term impact of sexual abuse

A large percentage of children NEVER DISCLOSE that they have been abused.


  • they don’t know that it’s abuse
  • shame and self-blame
  • fear that no one will believe them
  • fear of judgement
  • fear of the consequences of telling
  • a sense of responsibility for “keeping the family together”, or protecting other siblings/family members, or even the perpetrator
  • acceptance of certain abusive behaviours as “normal”

Or, worse, the child may report the abuse and no one believes her/him, or no one takes action.

This means that the effects of abuse may extend well into adulthood.

  • self-esteem, trust, identity and sexuality are all impacted upon, resulting in emotional and behavioural symptoms which can negatively affect the person’s entire life
  • inability to form or maintain meaningful relationships
  • prone to end up in violent situations
  • extremely angry or fearful, excessive anxiety
  • drug / alcohol / substance abuse
  • lack of interest is self or others
  • isolation
  • aggression
  • sexual difficulties
  • eating disorders
  • while, not necessarily the case, the cycle of abuse may continue if the person does not receive counselling or support

Tips for adults – talking to your children about sexual abuse

The idea of talking to your child about sexual abuse probably seems even worse than talking to them about sex. Many adults are uncomfortable about talking with children who have questions about child abuse or who, unfortunately, may be victims themselves.

You don’t want to strip away their innocence. You don’t want to scare them (or yourself) in the process. You don’t want to introduce them to how much violence and abuse there is in the world. But sadly, your child has a greater chance of being sexually abused than being knocked over by a car. So, try thinking of these conversations as being just as important as teaching your child how to cross the road safely. It’s one of the things you teach your child as a sign of love and care and as a way to keep them safe.

Remember this when you take a deep breath and begin talking to your child about their body, boundaries and privacy.

Ways of Approaching the Conversation

  • Frame the conversation for yourself as a way of loving your child
    Starting from a place of love, rather than a place of fear, will help create the calm environment you and your child need for this conversation. This will help them really listen, understand and ask questions.  If you’re frightened and stressed, they will react to that fear and will not be able to focus on what you are saying.
    It’s also important to not treat the subject like it is taboo, dirty or shameful (which is how we often treat anything related to sex). If you talk about it in this way, your child might get the message that abuse is something s/he should not talk about, making it difficult for them to tell you if something happens. Be calm, loving and matter-of-fact, and emphasise the importance of telling if this ever happened, letting them know that they can talk to you about anything, any time.
  • Begin talking to them as young as 2 years old.
    Start talking to them about their bodies early, ensuring that you don’t avoid naming private parts, or make these parts of their body something to be ashamed of. Teach them the names of their private parts as you would any other body part.
    At the youngest ages (even changing diapers) we can teach children the correct names of their body parts and model respect for their body and their boundaries. This may seem very early, but 4 years old is the highest risk for sexual abuse for children.  Even if they can’t speak well, children at this age are busy figuring out the world, and they understand and remember a lot more than adults usually realise.
  • Teach them that private parts are special.
    When talking about this topic, it’s important to not create a taboo, shameful or dirty feeling around their private parts. Instead parents can teach their child that their private parts are so special that they’re just for them and no one else, unless someone is helping them keep their private parts clean, safe, or healthy.
    This is an important step to help children develop a healthy sexuality, before discussing sex itself with them. When they are older, of course, you can have the conversation about consent and when it is appropriate to touch another person’s private parts and give and receive sexual pleasure.
  • Teach them the actual names of their private parts
    When you begin teaching them parts of their body like ears, eyes, and toes, also teach them the real names of their private parts like “vagina” and “penis” and not only their “cute” names. This gives them the right words to use if someone is hurting them and makes sure the person being told understands what’s happening. It’s also important to teach both female and male anatomy because the abuser can be of any gender and they need to know how to describe what happens to them.

In one case, a child told her parent that her stomach was hurting. When they took her to the doctor, he informed them that her vagina showed signs of rape. Their little daughter had been trying to tell them what was happening but she just didn’t know what to call her vagina. So, she said stomach instead.

  • Explain the only times when their private parts can be seen and/or touched
    An age appropriate concept for a young child to understand is that nobody – including a parent or caregiver – should see or touch their private parts (what a swimming suit covers up) – unless they’re keeping them clean, safe, or healthy. And it should NEVER be a secret.
    Make sure they know that even in these situations, if someone is hurting them, they can still say, “stop, it hurts” and tell their parent immediately.
    Also explain that if someone is making them feel “tingly and nice” in their private parts, it’s also not appropriate and they should tell you immediately. It’s important not to make them wrong or ashamed for having any sexual pleasure since many children do touch themselves. Instead make it clear that it’s a problem if someone else is doing it to them.
    You can also ask them what it feels like when someone is touching them there in order to keep it clean, safe, or healthy. This will help them understand the difference between that type of touching and someone touching them sexually.
    It’s also important to teach them that it’s NEVER okay to touch other people’s private parts, even if an adult asks them to. And if someone does, they should tell you immediately.
    Some examples to help them understand what you’re talking about are when you’re giving them a bath or a doctor is seeing them. Ask them if that’s an example of keeping them clean, safe, or healthy as you’re doing it.
  • Teach them (and respect) their right to control their bodies
    We often teach our children that adults have absolute authority over everything and children must do what they’re told. This creates a problem, teaching them not speak up when they’re feeling hurt and scared because of what an adult is telling them to do.
    So, teach your child that their body is theirs and no one has the right to hurt their bodies even if it is a grown up. For children, it’s very empowering to have permission to say “no” to an adult if they’re uncomfortable with a request.
    For example, when you’re at a social event, don’t force your child to kiss or hug anyone. Instead let your child know they can give a kiss, hug, handshake, or just greet people they see and it’s entirely up to them. And when an adult tries to make them give them a hug and they don’t want to, encourage the child to say “no” and support their decision verbally if needed.
    Having said that, children also need to know that if they are too afraid to say ‘no’ and feel that it will put them in danger that the most important thing they need to do is TELL what ever happened to someone they trust.  They must understand that if they could not say ‘no’ it’s NOT THEIR FAULT.
  • Talk about touch
    When talking with children about touch, remember that sexual touch can be very confusing. In a strictly physical sense, sexual touch can feel good and for a victim of sexual abuse, this can create more shame and confusion about the situation. “If my body responded this way, this must mean that I liked it and wanted it to happen.”
    Therefore, many families prefer to talk about “secret” touches or any touch that makes a child uncomfortable. “It is not OK for anyone to touch you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable or that you know is not OK—not Mom, Dad, aunts, uncles, teachers or even your friends. Your body is yours and yours alone and you always have a right to say no to someone and/or tell on them.”
    Teach them that they are the only ones who are allowed to touch their sexual body parts, except when a doctor or caregiver needs to examine those body parts for a specific reason related to health or hygiene.
    Experts emphasise that these conversations are ongoing and evolving and should never stop.
  • Explain that no one should physically hurt them, especially in their private parts.
    85% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows. It may be a parent, relative, family friend, neighbour, teacher, or religious leader. It may be a man, woman, or another child. So, make sure your child knows that no one has the right to hurt their bodies no matter who.
    It’s also important that they understand that you’re talking to them about this because you love them and want them to be safe. Just like you teach them about crossing the road because they might get hit by a car, you’re also teaching them that someone might sexually hurt them. It doesn’t mean it will happen. But in case someone tries to, your child will know what to do, and that you won’t be upset with them.
  • Explain about tricks
    Some people who sexually abuse children use tricks or bribes to ‘groom’ them before sexually abusing them, or to keep them from telling. The abusive person might promise a gift or allow a forbidden privilege (like staying up late, watching adult movies, drinking, etc); or they might tell the child that it is their fault or that no one will believe them, or that if the child tells anyone they will hurt their family or pet, etc. Explain these tricks to your children and reassure them that you can handle the situation, even if they couldn’t or didn’t say no to the sexual interaction at the time.

“As your caregiver, I will always be here to keep you safe and will always believe you and love you.” “If someone touches you in an uncomfortable way, it is never your fault. They just tell you that to trick you.”

  • Encourage them to trust their gut around their safety.
    While parents shouldn’t instil a fear of people in their child, they should support their child in trusting their ‘gut instinct’. All of us have felt uncomfortable around someone, without that person having done anything obviously wrong. This is because human beings naturally pick up subtle non-verbal signals that help them judge if someone is dangerous.
    By trusting their intuition, children will both be more empowered around making their own choices about who is safe instead of relying on what a parent or other adult has told them. This is important because a parent won’t always be there with them.
    One way is to tell the child before social events that if they ever feel uncomfortable with someone – even if nothing has happened, they can leave the room and tell their parent. Even if it looks “rude,” they should know that they will not be punished for simply leaving the room. Their sense of safety comes before the need to be “polite.”
  • Use concrete examples
    Remember that in many situations where a child is sexually harmed, the child (and often their family) knows the adult, youth or child who has acted in a sexually inappropriate way. When talking with children about child sexual abuse, use examples and situations that make that reality clear.
    For example, “What if you are at a friend’s house and her older brother asks you to play a game that makes you feel weird or uncomfortable or involves something like touching or taking off your clothes?”

“Sometimes relatives, like grandparents or uncles or cousins, don’t understand the rules and touch kids in ways they’re not supposed to. If that ever happens, be sure to tell Mom or Dad or another adult you trust so that we can help that person learn the rules.”

Nice resource: (tips for adults and a downloadable book to read to kids)

  • Make it a rule that “In our family we don’t keep secrets, only surprises.”
    Many abusers tell their child victims that what happened was a secret and to not tell anyone, especially their parents. So it’s important to teach them early on that anyone who wants them to keep secrets from their parents shouldn’t be trusted and they should definitely tell their parents about it.

“We don’t keep secrets, we only keep surprises”

  • Tell them that you will believe them if someone is hurting them and they won’t be in trouble
    Many abusers tell their victims that no one will believe them, and create a sense of shame and guilt around what happened. Children in general, usually blame themselves and take responsibility for things that happen in their lives, regardless of who is responsible for it.
    Because of this, children often fear what their parent will do if they tell them, including being punished. Make sure they know without a doubt that you won’t be upset, that telling is the right thing, and that you would be proud of them for telling them the truth.

These conversations should be ongoing, open, and casual.

You wouldn’t tell your child just once to not cross the street without looking both ways. You’d tell them several times and probably even question them about what they need to do when they want to cross the road.

It’s the same deal for sexual abuse – except you have this conversation from a much earlier age and it changes as your child grows up and becomes a teenager.

While nothing can keep your child 100% safe, if you keep an open, casual dialogue with your child, keep an eye out for signs, and pay attention to how your child responds to people, you may significantly reduce the risk of someone sexually abusing your child.

Adapted from Tip Sheet: Talking to Children and Teens | Stop It Now

Friedman, Norman. (2006) Inoculating your children against sexual abuse: What every parent should know.
Hindman, Jan. (1998) A very touching book. Baker City
Childline 2017


  • don’t assume that a child will behave or react in any particular way
  • every situation that involves child abuse is different, and every child responds differently
  • simply being an available, responsible adult may provide the support a child needs
  • establishing or maintaining a sense of normalcy or routine may help to reassure a child and start the healing process
  • your community has resources that can help you, the child, and troubled families through this difficult time

Please call Childline if you are at all concerned about any child being abused 116


“Jan Hinderman (1989) says that it is important to understand why children cannot give consent to sexual advances of an adult.  Children are not equal to adults in terms of their physical or psychological development. They are often not informed about sexuality or the consequences to themselves.  Children are taught to listen to, and respect, adults. For all these reasons children can be easily coerced into sexual contact. This is not consent. Saying yes means nothing if you do not have the choice to say no, or do not understand the consequences of your choice.  Participation in sexual activities when one is not free to refuse is harmful to the child. The child may enjoy the sexual attention of someone who they know. Children are sexual human beings and their bodies are conditioned to respond to touching. Even if children do physically respond to sexual interactions this does not mean that they consent to sexual abuse”.


Please see relevant legislation:

Child exploitation is the act of using a minor child for profit, financial or other personal advantage.

Children are protected from child labour by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution which explicitly states that children are to be:

  • protected from exploitative labour practices
  • not to be required or permitted to perform work or provide services that: are inappropriate for a person of that child’s age; or place at risk the child’s wellbeing, education, physical or mental health or spiritual, moral or social development

In addition, Section 43 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (1998) indicates:  It is illegal to employ a child under the age of 15, and between the ages of 16 and 18 children may not be employed in hazardous labour.  (Exceptions may be made in work involving advertising, sports, artistic or cultural activities).

Examples include of child exploitation include

  • child begging
  • child prostitution
  • child used by adults to commit criminal activities
  • child vendors
  • domestic child labour
  • farm child labour
  • general child labour
  • child involved in pornography
  • trafficking (selling children into further situations of exploitation)
See also:


Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. Children in exploitative situations and relationships receive something such as gifts, money or affection as a result of performing sexual activities or others performing sexual activities on them.

Children or young people may be tricked into believing they’re in a loving, consensual relationship. They might be invited to parties and given drugs and alcohol. They may also be groomed and exploited online.

Some children and young people are trafficked into or within South Africa( and sometimes sent to other countries) for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation can also happen to young people in gangs.

Child sexual exploitation is a hidden crime. Young people often trust their abuser and don’t understand that they’re being abused. They may depend on their abuser or be too scared to tell anyone what’s happening.

It can involve violent, humiliating and degrading sexual assaults, including oral and anal rape. In some cases, young people are persuaded or forced into exchanging sexual activity for money, drugs, gifts, affection or status. Child sexual exploitation doesn’t always involve physical contact and can happen online

Child sexual abuse online

When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
  • have sexual conversations by text or online.
  • Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person’s friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity.

Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.

More about Child Labour

Child labour is identified by the Office on the Status of the Child (2000) as work done by children under the age of 18 which is exploitative, hazardous or otherwise inappropriate for their age and detrimental to their schooling or social, physical, mental, spiritual or moral development.  This work is not limited to work for gain, but includes excessive or inappropriate chores or household activities. Whilst all children have the responsibility to assist with household chores, often the responsibilities which are placed on young people are exploitative, for example full time child care, and the responsibility for all the cooking and cleaning or collection of wood and water that interferes with their school work.  In addition, a significant number of children work on farms, hawking and newspaper selling. The building and taxi industries are also known to exploit young children. Conditions of employment can be very harsh.

The worst forms of child labour as identified by the ILO Convention on the Elimination of the worst forms of child labour includes: all forms of slavery (sale, trafficking, debt bondage and forced compulsory labour); commercial sexual exploitation (prostitution and involvement in pornography); and involving children in crime.  We do not have statistic available in SA for these forms of child labour but the long-term impact on the child is very severe.

However, the prevailing conditions of poverty in our country where children are often the only bread winners, arguably make it impossible to eradicate all forms of child labour.

The survey of Activities of Young People (SAYP) done by Stats SA in 1999, indicated:

  • 36% or 4.8 million children between 5 – 17 did 3 hours per week of economic work and 7 hours per week for other types of work which is not defined as child labour unless it was detrimental to them
  • 12.5% or 1.7 million children did 12 hours of economic activities or 14 hours of household chores (mostly fetching wood and water)
  • 1 out of 31 children or .4 million did economic activity for more than 12 hours per week and the majority were boys
  • Mostly (74%) indicated that they were working to assist their families
  • Most involved in economic activity were involved in family mirco enterprises, agriculture or trade

The October Household Survey of 1994 (Statistics South Africa) indicate that about 200 000 children of between 10 and 14 years of age had been in employment.  Agriculture was the largest industry represented.

Childline Gauteng call centre stats indicate that 4.03% of calls pertain to commercial exploitation.

Studies indicate that child workers who do attend school are often less alert and industrious.  They often attend school irregularly and are at a disadvantage throughout their school career (Bosch and Gordon, 1996, as quoted by the Office on the Status of the Child 2000).

Causes of Child Labour

Poverty is a key causal factor in child labour.  It is estimated that in 2010, 60% of children lived below the poverty line of R575 per month nationally according to the Child Gauge (2012). This is not consistent throughout the country and applies to 38% of children living in Gauteng and is much higher in the rural areas.  35% of children live in households where there is no employment. This is mitigated to some extent by the Child Support Grant of R300 which 11.2 million children received in 2012.

As well as rural differences, there are racial disparities in that 67% African; 2% white; 29% Coloured and 12% of Indian children live below the poverty line.

Children from Child headed households may not have a choice in selling their labour to support themselves and siblings.

Vulnerable children are often targeted by unethical adults to be used in the commission of crimes which are drug or prostitution related.

Dealing with Child Labour

Reporting of all economic forms of child labour to the Department of Labour for investigation and possible prosecution of the employer is mandatory.

The use of children in the commission of a crime should be reported to the SAPS.  These children can be dealt with in terms of the Child Justice Act or can be referred to the Children’s Court to be found in need of care and protection.

The Department of Labour is involved in preventative programmes to highlight the need for community involvement in the prevention of conditions related to child labour.

Children can be abused by adults or children, by people they know, or by strangers. The vast majority of abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows, usually within the home.  There are no absolute causal factors for someone to become abusive, however there are some risk factors.

Examples of these risk factors include

  • difficult pregnancy / premature / difficult birth, leading to negative feelings towards the child
  • poor bonding / attachment
  • poor ante-natal care
  • an unwanted child
  • when a child has behavioural/medical/educational challenges that the caregiver is unable to cope with
  • single parenthood / lack of support structures
  • very young / immature parents
  • inadequate spacing between children
  • history / pattern of violence
  • poor boundaries and unhealthy communication patterns
  • favouritism / alliances
  • the family is socially isolated
  • poverty – where materialistic values are important
  • low socio-economic conditions
  • migrant labour system
  • children are viewed as the possessions of parents
  • girls have less identity & importance than boys
  • patriarchal family systems (rigid, harmful gender roles)
  • powerful media messages (sexualisation of children & women)
  • a society which supports an imbalance of power
  • limited resources (health, education, basic services)
  • socially accepted abusive behaviours (such as corporal punishment)

While these factors help us understand what makes children more vulnerable, and what contributes to abusive behaviour, there is no excuse or justification for child abuse.

Childline is here for parents, caregivers and teachers too, and if you need help or support, please call us 116

No. In no situation can a child be blamed for being abused.

Children are disadvantaged in terms of their age, intellectual capacity and lack of physical strength, as well as in terms of power relations with adults and abusers.

Abusers take advantage of this vulnerability

  • trying to convince the child that the abuse is their fault or that they deserved it
  • tricking the child into thinking that what is being done is not wrong, or that it was something they wanted
  • taking advantage of vulnerable children living in poverty, offering gifts, bribes, and so on in exchange for sex
  • justifying their behaviour

Therefore children cannot be completely responsible for ensuring their own safety, or for preventing or stopping the abuse.

However, providing children with the information and life skills they need, and making them aware of their rights helps them to identify when they feel uncomfortable or hurt and to choose a caring adult that they can trust to help them.

All of us – parents, caregivers, teachers, and neighbours – are responsible for ensuring that children are safe and protected.

If you suspect or know that a child is being abused, it is your moral obligation to report it to a designated child protection agency so that they can investigate and take action if necessary.

However, if you are in the following professions, you are LEGALLY MANDATED to report to a designated child protection agency

  • correctional official
  • dentist
  • homeopath
  • labour inspector
  • legal practitioner
  • medical practitioner
  • midwife
  • minister of religion
  • nurse
  • occupational therapist
  • police official
  • physiotherapist
  • psychologist
  • religious leader
  • social service professional
  • social worker
  • speech therapist
  • teacher
  • traditional health practitioner
  • traditional leader
  • member of staff or volunteer worker at a partial care facility, shelter, drop-in centre or child and youth care centre

If you are concerned about your own behaviour and are struggling with the hardest job in the world –parenting – Childline is here to help. Call us 116

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