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Childhood violence leads to reduced salaries, inequality – researcher

By Isabelle Coetzee

South Africa is regarded as the most unequal country in the world, according to a report released by the South African Human Rights Commission at the start of July. 

The Gini coefficient for wealth inequality, which measures the distribution of wealth in South Africa, has reached 0.95 – just 0.5 short of perfect inequality. 

The report explained that black females, children under 17, and those living in rural areas – specifically in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo – are most affected by poverty.

But besides the historic inequality inherited from Apartheid, what continues to prevent South Africa from an equal share in wealth? 

According to Chandré Gould, senior research fellow for the justice and crime prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, one endemic cause is the cycle of childhood violence.

“In 2015, violence against children cost South Africa an estimated R238,58 billion – or 6% of GDP,” says Gould.

She believes the exposure to abuse, neglect, and other forms of violence compromises children’s ability to thrive.

It also increases their risk of mental health problems and substance abuse, and it contributes to an intergenerational cycle of violence, poverty, and – ultimately – inequality.

“Children who experience violence, neglect, and abuse are likely to earn less later in life than their peers,” says Gould.

In short, she believes violence, neglect, and abuse experienced at home, in schools, and within neighbourhoods entrench disadvantage and inequality.

Focusing on the first thousand days

Reducing inequality and poverty is usually associated with creating jobs for young people who recently matriculated.

However, Gould believes this is only part of the solution. She points out that the first thousand days of a human being’s life should be the core focus.  

“During this time, children need enough healthy food, warmth, and stimulation because this is when their brains are growing the fastest,” says Gould.

She believes pregnant women need to receive the right support, care, and nutrition so that their babies can be born healthy.

All children, and especially children in poor communities, must have access to good quality early-childhood learning opportunities, and they must not be exposed to violence.

Bullying must come to an end at schools, as well as the use of corporal punishment at schools and in homes.

“Unless we address what happens to children long before they are young adults, we will not be able to solve this problem,” says Gould.

Income comparison tool

South Africans underestimate how wealthy they are in relation to the rest of the country.

This is according to the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU), which released an income comparison tool at the end of June. 

This allows South Africans to see where they rank compared to the rest of the country in terms of their income.

Have you always thought you’re part of the South African middle class? Find out where you rank by answering four questions in this questionnaire.  

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