SA’s children hard hit by poverty

Child poverty in South Africa is increasing, particularly among African children living in rural areas, a study by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) has found.

Judith Streak of Idasa’s budget information service said all indicators suggest a rise in child poverty, except in the categories of health and nutrition, and “suffering is greatest among African children, and greater among coloured children than Indian and white children”. The study notes “the rising number of children that are suffering from an inability to attend school, which is in turn linked to the rising incidence of HIV/Aids and unemployment”, Streak said.

Entitled Child Poverty and the Budget 2000: Are Poor Children Put First?, the study details a litany of problems, from inequity in spending among provinces to a lack of information and commitment. It calls for survey analyses of child poverty at regular intervals in order to monitor when it is being reduced. According to the study, “if poverty is measured using a relative definition of [a child living in one of the bottom 40% of households in South Africa’s income distribution], then 60% of our children are poor”.

On the other hand, “if poverty is measured using an absolute poverty line [a child has an insufficient level of income to meet his/her needs], then 72% of our children are poor. In total, this represents 30% of South Africa’s total population.” The survey shows the Eastern Cape has the largest number of the country’s poor children, followed by KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Province and North West. Together, these provinces account for as much as 70% of poor children.

The study notes that “compared to other countries with similar levels of income, South Africa fares badly in the delivery of basic child health, nutrition and education rights”. Streak says the positive findings of the budget analysis includes an increase in equity in education per learner across provinces and between magisterial districts inside provinces.

Another positive finding is the existence of a concerted effort to allocate a large portion of resources to children in health spending, both nationally and provincially. More than 30% of the consolidated provincial and national health budget was allocated to child-focused health services.
The negative findings include a high level of inter-provincial inequity in health spending, large declines in real health spending in the Eastern Cape and North West, a real decline in spending on the integrated nutrition programme and under-spending of this programme’s funds.

“Although the government shows some important policy and budget commitments to putting children first,” Idasa notes, “the study illustrates that the government’s performance in service delivery is the weakest.”

Other problems related to child poverty include lack of access, communication, efficiency and commitment, a lack of information in the administration of the integrated nutrition programme grant, inadequate and unequal access to district clinics and a lack of inter-facility transport and staff constraints in the delivery of health care to children.

There is also confusion about financing and delivery mechanisms for early childhood development, a lack of preparedness in establishing school governing bodies, insufficient access to police officers and assessment centres for children in conflict with the law, insufficient inter-sectoral collaboration around child justice services, and poor training and support of child justice workers.

The child support grant has also been a problematic area, due to the lack of information in rural areas, insufficient access to the Department of Welfare, particularly in rural areas where income is low and transport costs high, and difficulties in presenting the relevant documentation, such as identity books and birth certificates.

Streak said there is also a lack of clarity and inter-sectoral collaboration in the government’s strategy to deal with HIV/Aids among children. She said the purpose of the study is to make a contribution to monitoring the government’s performance in delivering on its promises to poor children and reducing child poverty.

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