South African kids online – when an opportunity is also a risk

29 June 2017

The impact of the internet on the lives of children globally is significant, both from a risk and harms perspectives, and from an opportunities perspectives (see Livingstone & Bulger, 2013; Kleine, Hollow & Poveda, 2014).  The South African Kids Online study (SAKO)(Phyfer et al, 2016), conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, collected both qualitative and quantitative data on children’s internet use and online experiences, including adverse experiences. The study forms part of the broader Global Kids Online research project coordinated by the London School of Economic and UNICEF Office of Research.  

The study collected data from 913 children aged between nine to 17 years of age, and 532 parents, through a household survey. Items on cyberbullying and online violence included having nasty or hurtful messages sent to the child, having others post or share nasty or hurtful messages, being excluded from groups or online activities, and being threatened.  Children were asked about their experiences in all environments, including school. 

Strong correlation between online and offline bullying

Despite general perceptions of cyberbullying as an epidemic, data reveal that in South Africa children were more likely to be bullied in person (39.3%) than via social networking sites (28.3%) or instant messaging services (20.2%).  Importantly, the study also shows the strong correlation between online and offline bullying, with those who have experienced bullying offline at greater risk of online bullying. This reflects findings from international studies that point to the relationship between online and offline risks. 

Most children and young people had been cyberbullied via a social network site (28.3%), or via instant messaging (20.2%).  Girls (23.9%) were more likely to have been bullied online than boys (20.2%). More children between the ages of 15 and 17 years old (25.5%) had been bullied online than younger children aged 9 to 11 years (20.5%). This suggests that children are more likely to encounter risks relating to online bullying, as they get older.

School should provide better support to bullied children

The study also offers important data for schools to inform their response plans and policies.  Only 11% of children reported that they told a teacher when they had been bothered online, suggesting that generally, and amongst other interventions, greater attention could be given to the support provided by educators to children who might experience cyberbullying.


This article was prepared by Patrick Burton, Executive Director of Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), at the request of UNESCO to make available data evidence on the SDG target 4.a.2. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and should not be attributed to UNESCO. For further information, download the study report.