Early Childhood Violence Exposure Patterns in The Drakenstein Child Health Study (DCHS)

Lucinda Tsunga, Marilyn Lake, Sarah L. Halligan, Susan Malcolm-Smith, Nadia Hoffman, Jon Heron, Heather Zar, Abigail Fraser, Kirsten Donald, Dan J. Stein

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1 Citation (SciVal)


Background: Research has highlighted high rates of exposure to violence among South African youth. However, work to date has been largely cross-sectional, focused on violence exposure during the adolescence period, and has been limited to specific types of violence exposure. We examined violence exposure in South African preschool children between 3 and 6 years of age, capturing both direct and indirect forms of violence, and tested for potential sex differences across the several types of exposures. 

Methods: Lifetime direct and indirect exposure to domestic and community violence was measured by parental report when children were 3.5 years (N = 530), 4.5 years (N = 749) and 6 years of age (N= 417) in a South African birth cohort located in a peri-urban community. 

Results: There are three main findings. First, a large proportion of children (72%-75%) were reported as having been exposed to some form of direct or indirect violent experience in their homes or communities from a young age. Second, there was significant polyvictimization,  with 49% of the children being exposed to more than one type of violence by age 6. Third, by 4.5 years of age, there was evidence that boys were more likely than girls to be exposed to domestic victimisation (28% vs. 17%) and polyvictimization (38% vs. 28%). 

Conclusions: These findings highlight the high levels of violence exposure in young South African children, particularly among boys, and the need for prevention at both the community and individual levels.

Original languageEnglish
Article number36
JournalWellcome Open Research
Early online date24 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (OPP 1017641). Additional funding was provided by the SA Medical Research Council, National Research Foundation, Academy of Medical Sciences Newton Advanced Fellowship (NAF002/1001) funded by the UK Government’s Newton Fund, by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) via (R21AA023887, R01 AA026834-01), by a US Brain and Behaviour Foundation Independent Investigator grant (24467), LT was supported by the University of Bristol’s (i) Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC)-Research and Enterprise Strategic Research Fund and (ii) The Quality-related Research Global Challenges Research Fund (QRGCRF) Strategy funded by Research England.


  • childhood exposure to violence
  • community violence
  • domestic violence; polyvictimization
  • interpersonal violence
  • preschoolers
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology


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