Living on the poverty line

As government and corporates grapple with how best to alleviate poverty among South Africa's children, evidence shows that maintenance payments are not enough.

Results rest on an even clearer focus on the impact of AIDS and greater policy coordination between government and other players.

Today, two-thirds of children in South Africa are living on R 7.75 a day – more or less the international poverty line. Children in female-headed households are more likely to go hungry, while the number of children living in households with even one employed adult is decreasing as unemployment spreads. 

As such 20 November, Universal Children’s Day, ”provides a moment to reflect upon the effectiveness of South Africa’s collective spend, both public and private, on the lives of our children,” said Julie Fredericks, Chairman of  Alexander Forbes Community Trust.

Unicef reports that South Africa has successfully increased access to support grants from 2.5 million beneficiaries in 1998 to more than 12.3 million in 2008 – with female and granny-headed households receiving a larger than average share of social grants. Furthermore, child support grants now reach more than 8 million children each month, compared to 22,000 in 1998.

The organisation also reports that more than 90% of the adult beneficiaries of child support in South Africa are women, significant in that children’s nutrition has been shown to improve once their primary caregiver starts receiving child support.

Yet the nutritional status of South African children has not changed over the past ten years. The National Food Consumption Survey, released in 2007, found that one child in ten was underweight while most South African children lacked micro-nutrients such as vitamin A and iodine.

Furthermore, rates of sexual assault in South Africa are amongst the highest in the world with children most at risk. Some 40% of reported cases of sexual assault are committed against children. In some centres for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, up to 80% of the victims are children.

In South Africa, 28% of pregnant women are infected with HIV, bearing some 300,000 HIV positive babies every year. The 2005 Household Survey of HIV and AIDS Prevalence estimated that 3.3% of children aged two to 14 years in South Africa were living with HIV. 

In short, AIDS has become one of the leading causes of death amongst mothers and children in South Africa, accounting for 20% of maternal deaths.

As such, “our own projects amongst many of South Africa’s vulnerable children have demonstrated that any strategy aimed at children in South Africa needs to include an HIV and AIDS prevention and management element,” said Fredericks.
South Africa now has the largest antiretroviral programme in the world, yet it is falling far short of reaching all those, especially children, in need of treatment.

According to the country’s recent UN General Assembly Special Session report, the estimated number of people needing treatment in 2007 was 889,000, of which 55% enrolled and 42% started on the antiretroviral therapy programme. Among children under 15 years of age needing treatment, 49% received treatment in 2007.

The Actuarial Society of South Africa reports that some 1.2 million children in South Africa have lost their mothers as a result of AIDS. But the low number of social workers and the slow rate at which they are produced mean that, in reality, AIDS orphans are cared for by community-based organisations, NGO’s, community workers, volunteers and, increasingly importantly, corporate social investment programmes.

Figures from the recent Making CSI Matter Conference indicate that CSI spending escalated from about R1, 5-billion in 1998/99 to more than R4-billion in 2007/08.

“Compared with the government’s 2009 Budget allocation of R115, 2 billion to health and HIV AIDS alone, total CSI spend pales in comparison to government spend” said Fredericks.

Even though these figures look large, the need is even greater.

“Looking at the numbers provides an opportunity to re-think how corporate South Africa could perhaps co-ordinate efforts to achieve a bigger foot print, or start assisting government refine and improve its already very widespread networks of delivery to South Africa’s children,” said Fredericks.
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