Protecting orphaned children

Sibongile Mkhabela, the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. (Elvis Ntombela)

Sibongile Mkhabela, the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. (Elvis Ntombela)

The major factor behind orphanhood and vulnerability facing children has been driven by HIV and Aids.

Political instability and the violence accompanying it in some parts of the continent and South Africa’s neighbouring countries, had the effect of seeing people move in search for refuge, asylum or opportunities worsened the situation.

This was the picture when the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund came into the scene in 1995, but worsened as HIV and Aids began to claim lives of the economically active generation, particularly woman between the ages of 24 and 40. Southern Africa has been the largest contributor to HIV and Aids-related orphanhood and vulnerability.

Children were prematurely thrust into adult roles to head households. The stabilisation of the situation from 2010 to date shows that children who headed households are today’s surviving parents.

It is in that context that the battle for the protection, care and safety of children to help improve the quality of life for orphans and vulnerable children should be appreciated.

Policies and child protection
For many years the country and the region were thrown into a complete state of confusion as the normal safety system was put under huge pressure.

NGO’s, community organisations, government and businesses tried to find solutions.

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund conducted a long-term study that showed that all the efforts of various players as implemented at that time would not make a significant difference 20 years down the line.

The study advocated for the improvement of the wellbeing of orphans and vulnerable children through innovative community support and economic strengthening strategies aimed at affected children and their communities.

The Fund then took an approach that emphasised the strengthening of families, ensuring that children remain in the safety of the home as long as possible; strengthening of the community networks and infrastructure and ensuring the local government was responsive to the needs of children and their families.

This saw greater movement for children finding way into family life and less reliant to what were infamously referred to as Aids villages.

Challenges still remain with the implementation of the Child Care Act, which is great legislation, but is yet to be adequately resourced.

Some progress has also been made. The establishment of a separate juvenile justice system through the enactment of the Child Justice Act is a welcomed development.

This makes provision for age-appropriate environment for children in conflict with the law.

South Africa of course still sits with a huge challenge of vulnerability.

The children whose parents died are now parents themselves. Often these children are under-prepared for parenting roles, as many of them did not finish school.

South African families also remain female single parent led, as the study on absent fathers done by the Institute of Race Relations in 2009, showed that 48% of children in South Africa have living but absent fathers.

The rising rate of violent crime and sexual violence against children points to the need for government to strengthen the South African Police Service and other law enforcement agencies.

Where children have been violated, our court system must provide them with the support to survive the incident and prepare them to becoming dependable witnesses that can secure convictions of offenders.

Moves for the establishment of the National Register for Sex Offenders is aimed to serve as a deterrent.

Community strengthening
Community strengthening is yet another front for the protection of orphans and vulnerable children.

Combating poverty, unemployment and violence in homes and neighbourhoods are key factors in dealing with the problem of vulnerability.

Responsible use of alcohol by adults and combating drug abuse will also go a long way.

Factors of vulnerability have also escalated with violence in schools, cybercrime and drugs. Even more disturbing with child-on-child murders is the videotaping of such incidents either by participants or bystanders.

By way of intervention the Fund has teamed up with Google and other civil society organisations to address and promote online safety and responsible usage of internet.

Services that focus on prevention and early intervention as well as focus on the family and community as a whole should also be prioritised to ensure a more impactful and sustainable use of resources.

While implementation of a plethora of child-specific programmes is commendable, child poverty should be understood as intertwined with poverty among adults due to unemployment.

For resources to transfer poor families, job-creation stands out as more sustainable. In this context, fighting poverty, unemployment and inequality is more than just a cliché.

This article forms part of a supplement paid for by Nedbank and Old Mutual. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by Nedbank and Old Mutual