Intimate partner violence and child behavioral problems in South Africa.


Background: Research in high-income countries has repeatedly demonstrated that intimate abstract partner violence (IPV) experienced by women negatively affects the health and behavior of children in their care. However, there is little research on the topic in lower- and middle-income countries. The population-based Asenze Study gathered data on children and their caregivers in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. This data analysis explores the association of caregiver IPV on child behavior outcomes in children < 12 years old and is the first such study in Africa. Methods: This population-based study was set in 5 Zulu tribal areas characterized by poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, and a high HIV prevalence. The Asenze Study interviewed caregivers via validated measures of IPV, alcohol use, caregiver mental health difficulties, and child behavior disorders in their preschool children. Results: Among the 980 caregivers assessed, 37% had experienced IPV from their current partner. Experience of partner violence (any, physical, or sexual) remained strongly associated with overall child behavior problems (odds ratio range: 2.46-3.10) even after age, HIV status, cohabitation with the partner, alcohol use, and posttraumatic stress disorder were accounted for. Conclusions: Childhood behavioral difficulties are associated with their caregiver's experience of IPV in this population, even after other expected causes of child behavior difficulties are adjusted for. There is a need to investigate the longer-term impact of caregiver partner violence, particularly sexual IPV, on the health and well-being of vulnerable children in lower- and middle-income countries. Studies should also investigate whether preventing IPV reduces the occurrence of childhood behavior difficulties.