Privilege blindspots will dismiss this suggestion but the reality is that this would help poor women tackle inequality and child malnutrition, writes Dineo Rabaholo
“Children are a third of our population and all of our future.”
And this future looks bleak in South Africa.
There are many reasons children fail to thrive but one of the most pressing is nutrition.
Poor nutrition can have far-reaching effects on a child’s ability to learn, grow and develop optimally. Nutrition involves not just access to enough food, but also enough of the right food.
South Africa, however, is losing the war against the “hidden hunger” – that is malnutrition in a country which the Global Security Food Index classifies as the most food secure in Africa.
Children under 15 make up 28% of the population, according to Stats SA.
It is important to consider how they are thriving.
According to last year’s South African Early Childhood Review, about a third of South African children under two are stunted.
Stunting is a form of malnutrition caused by not eating enough food with the right nutrients.
This is a startling figure, but given the state of inequality in South Africa and the high rates of unemployment, it is not surprising.
Rampant inequality and poverty affect access to even the most basic needs and necessities.
Pregnancy is not spared by the wrath of poverty.
Not only is this a time of incredibly physical, material and emotional vulnerability for women but the indignity of poverty shows itself in the impossible choices poor women face.
These include the dilemma of choosing whether to eat, take a taxi to receive prenatal care at a clinic or have good shelter.
These choices show the undeniable link between poverty and malnutrition, in ways that might not be obvious.
Privilege blindspots will want us to dismiss this by asking: “Why do poor people fall pregnant?”
But this is dignity denied. Poverty is systemic and cannot be overcome with individual choice.
Instead, poverty needs to be confronted with systems and programmes that at least empower the poor, instead of condemning them to a continuous cycle of dire social conditions.
If nutritional intervention is introduced to pregnant women early, it could have significant consequences for curbing conditions of malnutrition such as stunting.
One way to increase the effectiveness of the child support grant is to extend it to pregnant women in the form of a maternity benefit grant.
An assessment of pregnancy support programmes in other countries found that the main benefit of such a grant is how it increased the rate of pregnant women attending health facilities.
Such a grant could be an economic buffer to improve a woman’s chances of employment and employability after pregnancy.
Think about pregnant teenagers whose schooling is interrupted.
If we don’t want them joining the pool of 29.5% unemployed women according to Stats SA, then we must be serious about interventions as we deal with the other issues that increase the teenage pregnancy rate.
But will this not just make people want to fall pregnant? The short answer is: no!
We know that women don’t fall pregnant just to have access to social grants.
Multiple studies have shown that social grants are not a motivator for pregnancy. But they carry insignificant incentive for the future.
In fact, the child support grant has been shown to give women economic activity they use to improve their and their children’s lives.
They also use them to fight some power dynamics of financial and other abuse.
The cost implications of this are not easy, but the human cost far surpasses the monetary cost.
One way to answer the question of where the money would come from for such a grant is for Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to tell us in the upcoming budget speech about recovering the R7 billion we lose annually due to “underreporting of corporate income by large multinationals with offshore affiliations”.
If government is serious about eradicating inequality then we need to start at the very beginning. For many children, that inequality starts the moment they are conceived.
A maternity benefit grant is one way to protect the future of children already born at a disadvantage to their peers.
South Africa needs to reckon with what inequality robs children of – not only their own futures but the collective future of the country as a whole.
Dineo Rabaholo is a junior campaigner at amandla.mobi and was previously involved in youth development work and lecturing in theology.
- Follow her on Twitter @Ausidini