A total of 437 children were reported to have been raped in Durban by yesterday - in this month alone.
Two state hospitals - Mahatma Gandhi Memorial and Prince Mshiyeni Memorial - treated almost 60percent of the victims. The hospitals serve densely populated communities in the Durban area.
"In 2007 we recorded 75 child rapes, but this year the figure is 437," said provincial health spokesman Chris Maxon.
"There is an urgent need for campaigns to change public attitudes towards the rape of children and women so that a consistent message of zero tolerance towards all forms of rape is given.
"It is essential that the perpetrator of rape is blamed and not the victim. Police and prosecutors need to enhance their responsiveness to all cases of child sexual assault so that levels of conviction of perpetrators are raised."
A nurse at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital said inadequate housing contributed to the problem. "Living spaces may be a 10m by 8m room where a large number of individuals live, 10 or more. Parents, children, grandparents, uncles or friends all live in a cramped space.
"People must undress, bathe and sleep in extremely small areas - without partitions. There are no private areas for parents to have sexual relations and members of the family may sleep next to children on the floor, [with] grandfathers or uncles sleeping next to small children."
A spokesman for ChildLine Kwazulu-Natal said yesterday that the number of reported cases tallied with the many calls the advice centre fielded from areas near the hospitals.
"The festive season's child rape and abuse figures show that KwaZulu-Natal has the highest rate of rape and abuse of children in the country. During this season we also noted that rape and violence against children, and the incidents of domestic violence in general, have increased.
"We are also finding that when criminals rob homes and find no material reward they are increasingly raping children as a form of revenge. Our communities feel helpless and tell us every day that they do not trust the criminal-justice system.
"The complaints vary from victims and their families withdrawing charges against the perpetrators because the person has been granted bail by the courts - to police not being adequately equipped to arrest known perpetrators."
Cookie Edwards, of the Kwazulu-Natal Network against Violence, said it was "shocking that at a time when children are supposed to be happy they were being robbed of their childhood".
"And these are just the reported cases. Imagine the ones that go unreported because the victims fear their perpetrators."
lThe World Health Organisation reports that sexually abused children suffer physical, emotional and developmental problems that can interfere with their ability to live productive lives.