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

On Safer Internet Day, UNICEF calls on each one of us to make the Internet a safer and better place for every child – for everyone.

08 February 2022
girls-mobile-phones
UNICEF South Africa/2020/Schermbrucker

PRETORIA, 08 February 2021 – 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 the ‘SA Kids Online Study’ released by UNICEF last year.

The ‘SA Kids Online 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 peers,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative. “But online abuse can, as we too often tragically witness, have a devastating impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of children and young people,” added Muhigana.

On Safer Internet Day, UNICEF issues five tips for children and young people on how to stay safe, connected and creative online:

  1. Don’t keep your fears to yourself
  2. Learn to manage your privacy settings
  3. Don’t feel pressured to accept random requests for online friends
  4. Don’t spread rumors
  5. Be careful about job offers you receive online

Keeping children safe online also relies on parents and caregivers to maintain open communication; to use technology to protect children; to spend time with them online; to encourage healthy online habits; and to let children have fun and express themselves.

The ‘SA Kids Online Study’ was produced by UNICEF South Africa and the Department of Social Development, who commissioned the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) at the University of South Africa (UNISA) to conduct the survey.

The findings showed 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. Only 41 per cent of children surveyed stated that they had received some information on online safety. 

The findings further 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.


About the Disrupting Harm Study:

The ‘SA Kids Online Study’ for South Africa represents the outcome of a nationally representative survey that captured 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’s nine provinces and included a representative sample of the population across gender and age.

Media contacts

Toby Fricker
Chief of Communication & Partnerships
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 61 418 7486
Sudeshan Reddy
Communication Specialist
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 82 561 3970

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in over 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special efforts on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children everywhere.

Working with a range of partners, UNICEF has had a presence in South Africa since the end of apartheid and continues to work towards bettering the lives of all children in the country.

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