Research Brief: One in five girls in Swaziland experience childhood physical abuse


The consequences of childhood physical abuse are significant beyond even the immediate risk of physical injury. Studies have shown that physical abuse has been associated with developmental delays, alcohol and drug abuse, and poor school performance among victims. There are also severe mental health consequences of physical abuse including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Early exposure to trauma such as violence and abuse can permanently change children’s developing brains. This study used the 2007 Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) data from Swaziland to find out the prevalence, characteristics, health consequences, and potential risk factors of childhood physical abuse among girls.

Key Findings

This paper reports findings from the 2007 Swaziland VACS, which was the first VACS completed. In Swaziland, data were only collected for girls. This study was important for establishing the methodology of the VACS and for reporting the national prevalence of violence among female children in Swaziland. This study laid the groundwork for VACS studies and reports across many future countries, which allows cross-national comparisons of the rates of violence, its circumstances, and consequences.

Girls’ home and early experiences in Swaziland are associated with risk for childhood sexual violence
  • About one in five girls experienced childhood physical abuse in their lifetime.
  • One in twenty (5%) girls experienced an injury requiring medical attention as a consequence of childhood physical abuse.
  • Childhood physical abuse was associated with several factors among victims. Girls who experienced physical abuse were more likely to be those:
    • Whose mother died before the girls turned 13.
    • Who lived with three or more families in their lifetime.
    • Who experience emotional abuse before age 13.
  • Childhood physical abuse was associated with several negative health consequences, including:
    • Feeling depressed
    • Having thoughts about suicide
    • Attempting suicide
    • Having a sexually transmitted infection
    • Having problems sleeping
    • Using alcohol
  • The most common perpetrators were mothers, fathers, other female relatives, and other male relatives.

What is added by this report?

Nearly 1 in 5 girls in Swaziland experienced childhood physical abuse and nearly 1 in 20 experienced abuse that was so severe that it required medical attention. The most common perpetrators were caregivers and relatives. Childhood physical abuse was associated with a range of health problems. Girls who were particularly vulnerable to physical abuse were those whose mother died before the girl was 13, those who lived with many families in childhood, and those who experienced emotional abuse before age 13. This study was the first to show the scope of the problem of childhood physical abuse among girls in Swaziland, both in terms of how many girls experienced physical abuse (the prevalence) and consequences. This study was also able to identify a number of risk factors for physical abuse. The findings can help those dedicated to the protection of children in developing more targeted strategies to prevent violence.


Breiding MJ, Mercy JA, Gulaid J, Reza A, Hleta-Nkambule N. A national survey of childhood physical abuse among females in Swaziland. Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health 2013; 3: 73-81.

*Footnote: some variation between prevalence estimates from published papers and country reports may exist. This variation reflects slight differences in the subsamples and variables used in the analyses.

Page last reviewed: November 8, 2018