Abstract Background Physical trauma is an important cause of childhood morbidity and mortality in Africa. There are however, few community-based reports on the subject on the continent. The present study was conducted to explore school children's experience of physical trauma in a disadvantaged periurban area of Blantyre, in Malawi. Methods A cross sectional questionnaire study was carried out among school children in Ndirande-Blantyre, Malawi in 2004. Data were obtained to describe the following aspects of trauma experience: being a victim or observer of motor vehicular accidents involving pedestrians; history of falls from heights; and knowledge about road safety. Sex differences were determined for some of the variables in order to gain insights as to whether there is a difference in trauma experience between boys and girls. Results A total of 217 school children, 99 (45.6%) boys and 118 (54.4%) girls participated in the study. Eight of them reported to have ever been hit by a motor vehicle, 87 (40.1%) had witnessed a road accident where a pedestrian had been hit and 83 (38.2%) had witnessed a pedestrian they knew having been hit by a motor vehicle. Of those that reported to have ever been hit by motor vehicle, 2 (25%) reported that they had been hospitalized as a result of injury. With regard to falling from heights, 86 reported to have ever fallen from tree, 44 of these (51.2%) were injured from the fall and 14 (16.3%) were hospitalized as a result of injury sustained from the fall. Girls were more likely to fall from trees and getting injured as compared to males (p = 0.04 for both situations). Just under half (41.9%) of the study participants were able to report the correct procedure of crossing the road despite the fact that the majority (80%) reported having been taught road safety at home or school. Conclusion Many school children in Blantyre, Malawi have been exposed to trauma either involving themselves or someone they observed. Prevention, including education, supervision and management of trauma must receive the necessary attention they deserve in terms of resources, surveillance and impact mitigation.