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Children disproportionately affected by poverty

Janice Roberts

South African children are disproportionately affected by poverty, with females more likely to live in low-income households than males.

Children are disproportionately affected by poverty, according to Statistics South Africa.

Releasing its report entitled Social profile of vulnerable groups in South Africa 2002 to 2010 on Tuesday, the Pretoria-based agency said that while approximately half (51%) of all South Africans lived in households that fell below the low-income threshold, nearly two-thirds (62.1%) of children lived in such households.

Females were slightly more likely to live in low-income households than males, the report added.

The comparable figure for children was almost indistinguishable (62.0% for males compared to 62.2% for females).

More than 70% of children living in Limpopo (77.9%), Eastern Cape (73.4%) and KwaZulu-Natal (71.1%) lived in households that fell below the poverty threshold.

These provinces displayed strong rural characteristics and contained one or more of the independent homelands that were created in the seventies. The percentage of poor children was much smaller in the relatively prosperous and more urbanised provinces like Western Cape (36%) and Gauteng (42.6%), the report added.

While black African children (68.4%) were most likely to live in low-income households—followed by coloured (34.7%) and Indian/Asian (23.7%) children—white children (3%) were less likely to live in low-income households.

Orphans
Just under one fifth (19.6%) of all children in South Africa, representing approximately 3.6 million individuals, were orphaned. The largest percentage of orphans were found in KwaZulu-Natal (26.9%) followed by the Eastern Cape (24.7%) and Free State (21.9%).

Less than 10% of children in the Western Cape were classified as orphans. When compared to the racial distribution of children, black African children were significantly more likely to be orphaned than children from any other population group.

More than one fifth (22%) of black African children were classified as orphans compared to the 9.6% coloured, 4.2% Indian/Asian and 2.5% white children. The large percentage of paternal orphans has been seen as due to higher male mortality rates, together with the frequent absence of fathers.

This argument was supported by the large percentage of paternal orphans in three provinces that were generally considered to be migration-sending provinces, namely: KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

The largest percentage of maternal, paternal and double orphans was located in KwaZulu-Natal, followed by Eastern Cape and Gauteng. Approximately 40% of children who were not orphaned resided in KwaZulu-Natal (21.1%) and Gauteng (19.2%).

While children consistently lived with both their parents, about 39% lived with only their mothers. Fewer than 4% of children lived exclusively with their fathers. Almost one quarter of all children (23.9%) lived with neither of their biological parents. The percentage of children living with both parents was the highest in the Western Cape (54.1%) and Gauteng (50.4%) and lowest in the Eastern Cape (22.1%) and Limpopo (25.3%).

The percentage of children living with neither of their biological parents was the highest in the Eastern Cape (34.1%), followed by KwaZulu-Natal (29%) and Limpopo (26.9%). The pattern varied substantially by race.

Disrupted families
While more than one quarter (26.7%) of black African children lived with neither of their biological parents, only 5.8% Indian/Asian and 3.1% of white children lived with neither of their biological parents. The extent to which particularly African families had been disrupted, was further accentuated by the observation that only 28% of black African children lived with both parents, compared to the 50.8% for coloured, 80.9% for Indian/Asian and 77.5% for white children.

Although approximately one fifth of all children in South African were orphaned, and about 4.4% were double orphans, the low percentage of children living in child-headed households suggested that orphaned children had probably been absorbed into existing households.

Child-headed households, otherwise known as child-only households, were defined as households that comprised only individuals aged 18 years or younger. Between 2002 and 2010 the percentage of children living in child-headed households had consistently remained below 1% of all children as their numbers fluctuated between 95 000 and 157 000.

Approximately 0.5% (100 000) of children lived in child-headed households in 2010.

The percentage of child-headed households had similarly lingered between 0.5% and 0.7% of all households, comprising approximately 81 000 households in 2010. Limpopo and Eastern Cape had the highest percentage of child-headed households.

Although a larger percentage of children in child-headed households was orphaned compared to children of the general population, it was interesting to note that only approximately one tenth of those children were double orphans; in 63.8% of the cases the parents were still alive, the report said. The majority of children living in child-headed households were not orphans at all; they had at least one parent who was alive.—I-Net Bridge

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