Every day more than 10 children die in South Africa due to injuries and many more are permanently disabled as a result of accidental injury.
Injuries as a result of accidents are the leading cause of death in children between the ages of five and fifteen in South Africa, according to a study done by the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS).
A 1995 Statistics South Africa study shows that of the 5 043 deaths of children aged five to fourteen years, 2758 died of unnatural causes.
This follows a recent UNICEF study into accidents being the primary cause of death of children in industrialised countries. Over fourteen children out of every 1 000 in the United States die as a result of an accident that might have been prevented.
Road deaths the biggest killer
The South African report states that the biggest killer of children is motor vehicle accidents, with children either being run over or involved as passengers. More than 60 percent of deaths of children between the ages of one and nine were pedestrian deaths.
“Children under the age of nine are generally not physically or emotionally developed to cross roads on their own,” said assistant director of the Child Accident Prevention Foundation Nelmarie du Toit. “They should always be accompanied by a parent or guardian and should be made as visible as possible.”
In 1998, of the motor vehicle accident patients that the Red Cross Children’s Hospital treated, most of the children were not restrained in their seats by means of a seatbelt or child car seat. This basic safety measure could prevent the death or serious injury of a child in an accident.
Accidents or unnatural deaths are measured as being intentional or unintentional, with falls, drowning and motor vehicle accidents being unintentional and assaults and shootings being intentional.
Nearly half of the assaults are the result of blunt force, like parents hitting their children.
Rape figures disturbingly high
Sexual assault or rape accounts for a disturbing 16% of all assault cases seen in the hospital. Most of these children are not even five years old.
Many children may have possibly been abused and then lie about the origin of their injuries. Du Toit said that it was hard to speculate: “There is no proof that what parents say about the accident is the real story. There are cases where a social worker will be called to investigate, but we cannot always tell if we are getting false information.”
A few children are assaulted with a firearm, and those that are shot, are usually innocent bystanders, caught in cross-fire or accidentally shot by themselves or another party.
Falls also high
Falls were the leading cause of injuries in children under the age of 14 at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in 1997/98. The majority of falls were on a level, probably while the child was running. However, many children fell from heights and many were injured on playground equipment.
Diseases strikes very young
Most of the deaths of children below the age of one are caused by infectious diseases like measles or malnutrition.
The second highest contributing factor to the deaths of such young children is the high rate of burn injuries.
Very young children have especially sensitive skin and even a burn from a cup of coffee can prove fatal.
The most common types of burns are due to hot liquids or fluids such as boiling water, tea or coffee. More than 60 children are admitted annually with flame-related burns.
“We see a child brought in almost every week for burns after pulling the kettle off the counter,” du Toit said.
More harm than good
Other household products like medicines, cosmetics and cleaning products may put a child in the emergency room if not kept out of harm’s way. More than 70 percent of medicines, like antibiotics, are issued by government tender and are given out in plastic bags. To a child, pills look just like sweets and without a child-proof lid, medicines may do more harm than good.