Orphaned by the system
Children trapped by poverty in South Africa’s poorest provinces are still being denied state support — despite President Thabo Mbeki’s promise last year that millions more children would be included in the social security net.
The extended Child Support Grant, which Mbeki announced in his 2003 State of the Nation address, was expected to extend grants to a further three million children by raising the qualifying age from seven to 14. This would raise to more than seven million the total number of children qualifying for the grant, which is aimed at children living in poverty.
But some provincial officials remain unaware that the age limit has been raised, a report released this month says. The Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town and the Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security (Acess) monitored the roll-out of the extension from April last year to March this year. Their report says the North West, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape and Free State told eight-year-olds to wait until April this year to qualify.
Several provinces have not implemented regulations that Mbeki announced, Connie Mpokotho, project officer of the Children’s Institute and co-author of the report, told the Mail & Guardian.
The report, which was sent to the national Department of Social Development this week, is based on cases reported to the Children’s Institute hotline, discussions with social development provincial officials and data from the Department of Social Development over a one-year period.
While roll-out has been fairly good in financially stable provinces, poorer provinces are hampered by a lack of capacity and administrative problems, Mpokotho says.
The national department does not have a monitoring process in place to ensure that the grant is being implemented as intended, she says. The Children’s Institute has received many calls on its hotline, Case Alert, from people who have been turned down for the grant after being told that children must be under the age of eight.
Provinces with the highest poverty levels — the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and North West — have the lowest percentage of children on a grant, the report says.
And North West is blatantly ignoring the regulations, to the extent of disseminating pamphlets and posters announcing that only children under the age of eight qualify for the grant, Mpokotho says. “The North West Province gets away with implementing its own regulations.”
The report says the majority of the children aged seven and eight who were refused the grant were in fact eligible.
Inefficient communication strategies, lack of administrative capacity, insufficient training of social service officers and an ineffective IT system that, in some provinces, does not allow children over seven to be registered on the system are among the reasons the report details for children being refused the grant.
One of the report’s key recommendations is for more capacity to register and provide services to children living in the poorest provinces. It also recommends that children who applied for a grant at the time they qualified and were rejected should be able to receive back-paid grants, and that children who reach the prescribed age not be de-registered, as this will involve their re-registration when they are eligible again.
Mbulelo Musi, spokesperson for the national Department of Social Development, denied that officials are unaware of the registration campaign. “The national department has established various standing forums to communicate and engage on policy matters with all the provinces, which thus far have proved very effective.” He conceded that communication and monitoring are problems, saying that several initiatives are under way, including employing more staff, training current staff and liaising with the Department of Education.
Nacoss, which claims to represent 3 600 welfare NGOs, spent R1,3-billion last year in service delivery, but the government contributed less than 30% of that, says Lynnette Schreuder, vice-chairperson.
NGOs are facing crises of epic proportions, homes may have to close and, in some organisations, there is a 300% turnover of social workers who leave to work in the government or overseas.
But Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya rejected the Nacoss claims, calling them “mischief” and “opportunism” from “charlatans” who, at election time, “want to gain prominence by making irresponsible statements that seek to confuse the public”.
“To date, over 7,7-million of the poorest of the poor now receive social grants at a total cost of more than R34,8-billion per annum, including older persons, people with disabilities and, most importantly, children,” the minister’s statement said.
This represents a phenomenal increase from just 2,6-million beneficiaries and government expenditure of more than R10-billion per annum on social grants in 1994.”