National Youth Policy: crime & health claims fact-checked

Ahead of Youth Day on 16 June, the South African government has approved a new National Youth Policy. We took a look at some of its key claims on crime and health topics. This is the second of two reports.

South Africa will celebrate its national Youth Day next week. The country’s government has just approved a new National Youth Policy that will be implemented until 2020. The policy (with the tag line “We don’t want a hand-out, we want a hand up!”) outlines the problems facing South African youth and suggests policy interventions.

Africa Check investigated some of the key claims made in the policy document about crime and health in South Africa.

Victimisation and offending

Claim

“Research by the Institute for Security Studies (2003) indicates that the 12 to 21 age group has the largest number of offenders and victims compared to other age groups in South Africa.”

Verdict

unproven
A group of men stand with their hands against the wall after the house where they were gambling was raided during a combined Metro Police and South African Police Services operation to arrest suspects, and search for drugs and firearms, in Manenburg, on August 27, 2013. Photo: AFP/Rodger Bosch
A group of men stand with their hands against the wall after the house where they were gambling was raided, in Manenburg in 2013. Photo: AFP/Rodger Bosch

The claim that young people, aged between 12 and 21, are most likely both to offend and become to victims of crime is referenced indirectly in the September 2003 issue of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)’s SA Crime Quarterly journal, in a piece written by Patrick Burton of the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP). It is important to note that the piece is an analysis of crime trends in Meadowlands, a suburb of Soweto, not the country as a whole.

The same claim also appears in three other reports from 2005 onwards (see here, here and here). None cite research conducted in South Africa. The sources include a 1998 Israeli National Youth Survey and a 1998 report by researchers from the University of Maryland.

The research director at CJCP, Lezanne Leoschut, told Africa Check that at the time of the ISS article, South Africa had no data on youth victimisation at all. Lizette Lancaster, project manager of the Crime and Justice Information and Analysis Hub at the ISS, told Africa Check that there was limited funding to conduct national victimisation surveys in South Africa. As a result, researchers sometimes rely on studies from other countries.

“Most of Africa is ‘silent’ on victimisation, other than some UN-commissioned studies being done in Kenya and Tanzania,” she added. The findings from these studies cannot be applied to South Africa.

A national study carried out by the CJCP provides some insight into youth victimisation. Its 2008 study, which surveyed 4,391 young people between 12 and 22, found that 27% of them had been victims of crime in the previous 12 months. By contrast, a 2007 ISS study of adult victimisation rates found that 20.3% of respondents had been victimised in the last 12 months. However, this study’s sample included people aged 16 and older. This overlaps with the youth sample and hampers comparisons. Neither study provided an overall offending rate.

At present, available data from victimisation surveys cannot tell us which age group is more likely to be offenders or victims of crime. The best source of information on  youth offending is incarceration data from SAPS, Leoschut said.

Traffic deaths

Claim

“In 2013, of the total 5,698 deaths in South Africa due to transport, 2,515 were among youth, indicating that 44% of all traffic accident deaths in the country occurred among the youth.”

Verdict

unproven
Rescue workers remove a bus that plummeted off a bridge in Meyerton, south of Johannesburg, killing nineteen people in June 2012. Photo: AFP
Rescue workers remove a bus that plummeted off a bridge in Meyerton, south of Johannesburg, killing nineteen people in June 2012. Photo: AFP

The 2013 SA report on Mortality and Causes of Death by Statistics SA recorded a total of 5,698 deaths due to transport accidents in all age groups that year, with 2,515, or about 45% of those coming in the 15 to 34 age group. The first number is exactly the same as given by the Youth Policy document, and the other numbers are the same.

At first glance, it would appear, therefore, that the claim is correct. However, experts in road safety make clear that these statistics often underestimate the number of deaths.

A specialist scientist at the Medical Research Council’s Burden of Disease Research Unit, Richard Matzopolous, told Africa Check that deaths are often incorrectly categorised by the Department of Home Affairs and this influences the estimates.

“Even though reporting of total injury deaths is fairly complete, the [death certificates] have poor coding of injury deaths, that is, a poor distinction between road accidents, other unintentional causes, homicide, etcetera,” Matzopolous said.

Deaths due to assault and suicide

Claim

“Of the total number of deaths due to assault and intentional self-harm in the country, 69% and 59% of them, respectively, occurred among those aged 15-34 years.”

Verdict

correct
South African paramedics carry a knife wounded man to be treated at a police station in 2006. Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP
South African paramedics carry a knife wounded man to be treated at a police station in 2006. Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP

Deaths caused by assault and by intentional self-harm, or suicide, are part of a larger category called ‘non-natural’ deaths that also includes deaths other causes such as traffic accidents.

According to the Stats SA Causes of Death 2013 report, there were a total of 46,527 non-natural deaths in the country the year before last.

As the age groups used in the report are not the same as in the claim, we spoke to Vusi Nzimakwe, Stats SA’s principal statistician for births and deaths. His figures for 2013 showed a total of 5,019 deaths due to assault and 592 due to intentional self-harm, across all age groups. For ages 15 to 34, there were 3,474 deaths due to assault and 348 for suicide.

In other words in 2013, 69% of all deaths due to assault and 59% of all deaths due to suicide were of people aged between 15 and 34.

Teenage pregnancy

Claim

“The prevalence of pregnancy increased with age, rising from 0.7% for females aged 14 years, to 12.1% for females aged 19 years.”

Verdict

correct

The claim is taken directly from Statistics South Africa’s most recent General Household Survey report and reflects a broadly steady picture over recent years, as the figures from the past five surveys show.

Age 14 (%) Age 19 (%)
2009 0.7 11
2010 1.6 12.5
2011 0.4 11.5
2012 0.4 10.2
2013 0.7 12.1

Source: General Household Surveys

The people polled were asked whether female members of their household between the ages of 12 and 50 years were pregnant in the year before the survey.

The problem with such figures is that they don’t tell us how many teenagers became mothers, and people often think they do, Samantha Willan, a research associate at the Health Economics and HIV/Aids Research Division, at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, told Africa Check.

“This [data] does not translate to live births and teenage mothers, but rather the number of girls who became pregnant, some of whom may have miscarried, aborted or had stillbirths,” Willan explained.

Claim

“4.5% of teenage girls between the ages 13-19 were reported pregnant in 2013.”

Verdict

mostly-correct

A pregnant schoolgirl at a school for pregnant teenage girls in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. Photo: AFP/Stephane de SakutinThe 2013 General Household Survey (GHS) recorded that 5.4% of girls between 13 and 19 had been pregnant in the previous year. This figure is slightly higher than the figure quoted in the policy document, but the rate has been falling for years and experts think the real figure close enough to call it broadly accurate.

Research by the Southern African Labour-Development Research Unit (SALDRU) has shown a gradual and significant decline in teen fertility rates since 1984.

Katharine Hall, senior researcher at the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, told Africa Check she thought the claim was broadly correct. In her analysis of the 2013 survey’s data, she used slightly different age groups and found that 4.2% of females aged 15-17 were reported to have been pregnant and 12.3% of those aged 18-20 had been pregnant. “The results are also broadly consistent with more detailed analysis of teenage fertility rates (i.e. live births), conducted by SALDRU and based on data over a 15-year period,” she said.

It is more useful to reflect on the overall trend of teenage pregnancy rather than one year’s statistics, she added.

Edited by Anim van Wyk and Peter Cunliffe-Jones

This report has been updated to include comments from Lezanne Leoschut from CJCP. A previous version of this report incorrectly stated that there were 5,639 transport related deaths in 2013. The correct figure is 5,698. We have corrected the report and apologise for the error.

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