Research Brief: Girls’ home and early experiences in Swaziland are associated with risk for childhood sexual violence
Sexual violence against girls in childhood (before age 18) is a substantial global health and human rights problem. Despite concerns regarding sexual violence against girls, prior to this study few studies had measured the burden of violence in sub-Saharan Africa. The Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) was conducted in Swaziland with a nationally representative sample of girls and young women ages 13-24 from selected households in 2007. A previous study using Swaziland data found that one in three girls – 33% – experienced sexual violence in childhood. Childhood sexual violence included forced or coerced sex, attempted unwanted sex, and unwanted forced touching. This study evaluated what characteristics are associated with increased risk of experiencing childhood sexual violence among girls in Swaziland.
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 lays the groundwork for future VACS studies and reports in other countries, which allows cross-national comparisons of the rates of violence, its circumstances, and consequences.
- Girls whose relationship with their mothers was not close had higher rates of childhood sexual violence.
- Girls who lived in a household with more people also had higher rates of childhood sexual violence.
- Girls who were not attending school at the time of the survey had higher rates of childhood sexual violence.
- Girls who experienced emotional violence by a parent or witnessed emotional violence before the age of 13 were also more likely to experience childhood sexual violence.
- Girls who knew another child who had experience sexual violence were more likely to experience sexual violence themselves.
- Some factors were not associated with experiencing childhood sexual violence among girls. These included experiencing physical violence in childhood, having peer social support, and living in multiple households in childhood.
What is added by this report?
This study found several factors were associated with being a victim of childhood sexual violence among girls in Swaziland. The findings suggest that girls who lack a close relationship with their mothers and those who are not in school may be particularly vulnerable to childhood sexual violence. This study also found a connection between childhood sexual violence and emotional violence – both experiencing and witnessing it. This information can help identify the groups who are potentially most vulnerable to childhood sexual violence, and inform ways to identify victims, provide services, and prevent victimization among the most vulnerable groups.
Breiding MJ, Reza A, Gulaid J, Blanton C, Mercy JA, Dahlberg LL, Dlamini N, Bamrah S. Risk factors associated with sexual violence towards girls in Swaziland. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2011; 89: 203-210.
*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.