63% of young SA children live in poverty - study

Johannesburg – About 63% of young South African children live in poverty, which can affect their physical, cognitive and emotional development, a new study has found.

The study, a joint publication between Ilifa Labantwana, the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency, was published in the South African Early Childhood Review.

The publication provides data, analysis and commentary on over 40 statistical indicators measuring the progress of Early Childhood Development (ECD) service delivery across multiple government departments, including health, social development and education. ECD focuses mostly on children, from birth to six years of age.

The study found that about 3 969 000 young South African children live in poverty, with the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo having the highest rates.

According to the study, children growing up in poverty may be affected later in life due to not receiving the services and care they need.

"Shortfalls in early childhood development are difficult to correct as time goes by. These children are always playing catch up and the education gap between them and their peers widens over time," Sonja Giese, executive director of Ilifa Labantwana – an NGO working to promote ECD, and co-author of The SA Early Childhood Review - said at the launch of the publication.

'Needs further improvement'

According to Giese, the figure of 63% of children growing up in poverty was a big improvement on 2003’s 80%, although this percentage was still too high.

According to Katherine Hall - co-author of the report and researcher at the Children’s Institute - the review found that there had been some improvements with regards to the healthcare sector, where the percentage of children who were completely immunised by their first birthday had increased from under 70% in 2002 to 90% in 2014.  

"This needs further improvement, however," Hall said, referring to research showing that 46% of pregnant woman were still having their first medical check-up only after 20 weeks.

Parents were urged to visit health facilities in order to prevent Vitamin A deficiencies.  

While poverty may affect children, the parents also sometimes became subject to depression and anxiety due to the stress of having a child.

"Both antenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety are huge problems, affecting an estimated one-third of mothers," Hall added.   

Giese said that the Child Support Grant (CSG) has seen the highest rate of growth of all social grants in South Africa, reaching almost 12 million children.

"The CSG has been shown to have a substantial developmental impact on children and their families living in poverty. Our challenge now is to ensure that caregivers access the grant as soon as possible after the child is born, so as to ensure that the child is able to benefit when it matters most."


According to the review, ECD was declared an apex priority by the National Development Plan. This was followed by Cabinet approving the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy in December 2015.

Other noteworthy findings:

- Between 2002 and 2014, the number of young children living in households with poor sanitation was halved: 26% of young children lived in households with poor sanitation in 2014, compared to 53% in 2002;

- Nationally, the delivery rate - which is the percentage of deliveries carried out by health personnel in health facilities - increased from 66% in 2002 to 86% in 2014;

- Over 40% of young children still suffer from lack of vitamin A;

- In 2009, only 5% of women were recorded as having received follow-up care after 6 days. In 2014 this had increased to 74%.

- A 2011 study on urban informal settlements in Cape Town found that 39% of women were depressed during pregnancy, while a study in a rural area found 47% of women were depressed during pregnancy.

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