Children's rights groups call for grant extension
Two children’s rights organisations are calling on the government to extend the child support grant (CSG) to all children under the age of 18.
The Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security (Acess) says the CSG must be extended to all children under the age of 18.
In a statement released to coincide with Child Protection Week, it said this is a constitutional requirement.
Acess believes the government has omitted millions of constitutionally protected children from the social security net.
“The government commits itself to prioritising children and their socio-economic rights. However, that commitment does not extend to children between the ages of 14 and 18 as the envisaged policy choice is to see the implementation of the extension of the CSG to 14, rather than to 18, as required by the Constitution,” said an Acess statement released on Monday.
These sentiments are echoed by the Network against Child Labour (NACL), which believes the extension of the grant will reduce the number of children who are forced by circumstances to work.
According to the NACL, there are more than 3,38-million children between the ages of five and 17 working in South Africa. Karen Allen, an NACL coordinator, told the Mail & Guardian Online there are at least 250Â 000 children working in “exploitative labour” conditions. Exploitative labour, explains Allen, is any work that is hazardous or inappropriate to a child’s age. This definition also includes work that affects their physical and moral development, and keeps them out of school.
These figures are based on the Survey of Activities of Young People, conducted four years ago, which Allen says is actually a gross underestimation as it was limited to households. It left out the countless children who live on the streets or under bridges in South African cities. But the survey, she says, is currently the only quantitative idea the NACL has of the number of working children.
“If you don’t have an economic alternative, you are not freed from labour,” Allen says.
Most children are forced into labour because of dire poverty, being orphaned by HIV/Aids and a general lack of awareness that children under 15 are not allowed to work, she says.
Allen is quick to draw a distinction between a child who works for 14 hours every day carrying firewood and one who washes cars for a few hours a weekend for extra pocket money.
Currently, the NACL is involved in a consultative process with the Department of Labour to deal with the problem. Thus far, the department has drawn up a draft paper to deal with the issue.
Now, says Allen, it’s time to put these policies into practice: “It’s about putting the money where their mouth is.”
The draft paper, titled National Child Labour Action Programme, was released for consideration in July last year.
Six percent of the boys and 1% of the girls surveyed said that the work they did kept them out of school. Allen says that educating parents about the importance of education for children will help keep children in school.
The Basic Conditions of Employment Act stipulates that only children who have reached the age of 15 are allowed to work. Even then, it sets out strict guidelines to regulate the work they do.
Speaking at the launch of Child Protection Week in Pretoria, Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya said: “In concrete terms, our major priority this year is to register all eligible children under 11 years of age for the child support grant. This will be extended to all children under 14 years of age next year.”
Mbulelo Musi, spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, says the government is moving towards a comprehensive security system after realising that the current system falls short in alleviating poverty.
The department has prioritised children’s needs and once issues such as service capacity and funding have been addressed regarding children who are currently eligible for a grant, children below the age of 18 may be considered, he says. But, it is vital that the department has the capacity, Musi says: “We cannot create an expectation that we cannot meet.”
The Department of Labour was contacted for an update on the draft paper but failed to provide one by deadline.