Child Protection Statistics

Acknowledgements: With thanks to the Children’s Institute’s Children Count and Child Gauge. For more information about child demography in South Africa, see

In South Africa, 2018 statistics show that the child population was approximately 19.7 million children. Children made up 34% of the total population of 57.7 million people.

Of these, approximately 2.7 million are orphans (14%). These include 519,000 maternal orphans, 1.693 million paternal orphans and more than 471,000 double orphans). In addition, more than 200,000 children lost a primary caregiver during the covid pandemic.

There are also tens of thousands of crisis pregnancies annually. Some of these children live in relatively safe kinship or communal care relationships but experts suggest that more than half (1.8 million) could benefit from adoption (either by extended family–to afford them a permanent, legal, familial relationship–or by unrelated families).

The children most in need of adoption are those abandoned by their families. Statistics indicate that there are about 3500 such children that survive abandonment every year. If they have no family or kin, they desperately need adoptive families to care for them.

Of the 1.8 million children in need of adoption, only a tiny fraction are placed in adoptive families. In 2013, 1669 children were adopted and in 2014, the number dropped to 1448. This is half the number of adoptions that took place ten years ago in 2004 (when 2840 adoptions took place). In 2016 these numbers once again dropped, to 1165, many of which are step-parent adoptions. The number remained disturbingly low over the last few financial years. Between 01 April 2017 and 31 March 2018 there were only 1033 national adoption and 153 intercountry adoption. From 01 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, there were 1039 national adoptions and 151 intercountry and these dropped even lower from 01 April 2019 to 31 March 2020. In that year, there were only 977 national adoptions, 146 intercountry adoptions, 1123 in total.

Given that this was pre-covid, numbers are likely to be even worse in 2020/2021 and 2021/2022.

National Adoptions Inter-country Adoptions Total Adoptions Registered
1 April 2010 – 31 March 2011 2234 200 2434
1 April 2011 – 31 March 2012 1426 194 1620
1 April 2012 – 31 March 2013 1522 177 1699
1 April 2013 – 31 March 2014 1240 212 1452
1 April 2014 – 31 March 2015 1401 250 1651
1 April 2015 – 31 March 2016 978 187 1165
1 April 2016 – 31 March 2017 1200 149 1349
1 April 2017 – 31 March 2018 1033 153 1186
1 April 2018 – 31 March 2019 1039 151 1190
1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020 977 146 1123
1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 799 50 849

million children in South Africa

million live below the upper-bound poverty line

million children are below the food poverty line

million children receiving child support grants

Here is a detailed list of child protection statistics in South Africa.  They illustrate why there are so many concerns about the state of children in the country:

  • There are currently 19.7 million children living in South Africa (34% of the country’s population).
  • 1 million children are born in South Africa every year.
  • More than 1/5th of all children live in KwaZulu Natal.
  •  In 2019, 56% of children (11.2 million) lived below the upper-bound poverty line. 44% of children (8.9 million) were poor in 2018 (below the lower-bound poverty line which does not provide enough for basic essentials), and 33% (6.6 million children) were below the food poverty line, meaning that they were not getting enough nutrition.
  • In  2021, 13 million children were receiving the child support grant (up from almost 12 million children in 2016).
  • In 2019, 386,000 children were receiving the Foster Care Grant (down from 470 000 children in 2016).
  • In 2019, 150,000 were receiving the Care Dependency Grant (for children with severe disabilities who require permanent care).  This is up from 131 000 children in 2016.
  • In 2020, 10% of children (2.1 million) lived in households that reported child hunger. More than a fifth of these children (22%) are from KwaZulu-Natal, while 19% are from Gauteng.
  • A child is classified as stunted, wasted or underweight if their height-for-age, weight-for-height, or weight-for-age scores respectively are more than two standard deviations below the globally accepted reference cut-off point as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2019, 27% of South African children under 5 experienced stunting (height-for-age).  Wasting  (weight-for-height) and underweight rates (weight-for-age) for children under five are substantially lower, at 2.5% and 5.9% respectively.
  • In March 2022, the child support grant was 26% below the food poverty line and 42% below the average cost to secure a basic nutritious diet for a child.
  • South Africa has 2.7 million orphans, of which just under a million are maternal or double orphans.
  • 17% of the child population in KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape are orphans.
  • In addition, women in the country experience tens of thousands of crisis pregnancies annually.  In many instances, the mothers are not able to raise their babies.
  • At any given time, there are about 550 children registered on the Register of Adoptable Children and Parents (RACAP) and awaiting adoption.
  • Figures provided by the DSD in March 2022 indicate that although it has bed capacity for 19,801 children, there were 16,313 in South African care facilities including 2522 in temporary safe care, 13,240 in Child and Youth Care Centres (CYCCs), and 551 in secure facilities.  There are about 2,000 children living in 115 unregistered ones (although the total number of children in care is estimated by some to be as high as 28,000).
  • Despite this need, adoption numbers declined by 50%, from 2840 to 1448, between 2004 and 2014.
  • In 2020, only 1123 adoptions took place, a further 30% drop from 2014. In total, adoption numbers declined by 60% between 2004 to 2020.
  • Adoption numbers include family and step-parent adoptions, so the number of children being adopted by unrelated parents is lower than the reported number of adoptions.
  • In Kwa-Zulu Natal (the province with the largest number of orphans), only 8 adoptions took place in 2016.
  • Close to half (48%) of all orphans are resident in the poorest 20% of households. Seventeen percent of children in the poorest 20% of households are orphans, compared with the richest 20% where total orphaning rates are around 4%.
  • In 2017, just over 4 million children were found to live with neither of their parents.  Of these, approximately 3-3.5 million have parents living elsewhere and 500,000 to 1 million are orphaned or abandoned.
  • The percentage of children living with both parents decreased from 39% in 2002 to 34% in 2018. Forty-three percent of all children (8.5 million children) live with their mothers but not with their fathers. Only 3% of children live in households where their fathers are present and their mothers absent. Twenty percent do not have either of their biological parents living with them.
  • In 2015, there were 90 000 children living in 50 000 child headed households. By 2017, this declined to 58,000 living in 32,000 child headed households and to 55,000 living in 33,000 households in 2018.  This number has remained static or declined since.
  • Over 70% of all children in child-only households live in three provinces: the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.   Child-only households are predominantly clustered in the poorest households; 88% of children living in child-only households are in the poorest 20% of households..
  • 26% of adolescents have experienced some form of sexual assault
  • On average, 900 children are murdered every year in South Africa. This excludes abandoned children whose deaths are not listed as part of the country’s crime statistics.
  • Teenage births in the public sector for girls aged 10-14 years increased by 48% between 2017 and 2021 from 2 726 in 2017/18 to 4 053 in 2020/21.  During the same time period, deliveries for girls ages 15-19 increased by 17.9% from 114 329 in 2017/18 to 134 267 in 2020/21.  These figures don’t include children who did not give birth in hospitals. None of the girls under 18 would have been able to place their child into the child protection system.
  • During the same time period, terminations for girls aged 10-19 years old increased by 8.3% .
  • Teen pregnancies for ages 10-19 (taking into account both deliveries and terminations), rose from 129,951 in 2017/2018 to 152,292 in 2020/2021.
  • Approximately 3500 children survive abandonment every year.  Estimates from Gauteng are that for every one child found alive, two are found dead.
  • For this reason, a recent Medical Research Council study on child homicide reveals that children in South Africa are at the highest risk of unnatural death in the first six days of life.
  • Research shows that 65% of abandoned children are newborns, and 90% are under the age of one.
  • A large number of babies have already survived a late-term abortion prior to being abandoned. 52-58% of South Africa’s abortions are illegal (up to 150 000 per annum), and in Gauteng, studies indicate that up to half of these abortions (which are seldom policed, and often unsuccessful) take place in the third trimester.
  • 70% of abandonments are unsafe.
  • Many abandoned babies are never found.

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