National Youth Policy: Crime and health claims fact-checked

South Africa 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. 

Victimisation and offending
The claim: “Research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) (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.” Our verdict: The data is unreliable.

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 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 herehere 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. We have contacted Lezanne Leoschut, research director at Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), for comment and will update our report if we receive a response. 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.

Traffic deaths
The 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.” Our verdict: The data is unreliable.

The 2013 SA report on Mortality and Causes of Death by Statistics SA recorded a total of 5 639 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 not exactly the same as given by the Youth Policy document, but it is reasonably close, 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
The 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 to 34 years.” Our verdict: Correct, according to available data.

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.” Our verdict: Correct – but note this does not indicate number of teen mothers. 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 –  (%)

2009 – 0.7%

2010 – 1.6%

2011 0.4%

2012 0.4%

2013 0.7%

Age 19 – (%)

2009 – 11% 

2010 – 12.5% 

2011 – 11.5% 

2012 – 10.2%

2013 – 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 to 19 were reported pregnant in 2013.” Our verdict:  Broadly  correct – the official rate is slightly higher but falling.

The 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 to 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 (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.

This article was first published on Africa Check

Twitter: @AfricaCheck

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