Child Support Grants prove critical to reducing child poverty in South Africa
By Katarzyna Pawelczyk
PRETORIA, South Africa, 31 May 2012 – Newly published research reveals that South Africa’s Child Support Grant – a key part of the country’s social protection programme – has been critical in reducing poverty and vulnerability in children.
The Child Support Grant – approximately US$32 per child per month – reaches over 10 million children in South Africa.
An impact assessment was commissioned by the Department of Social Development, the South African Social Security Agency and UNICEF, and was carried out by the Economic Policy Research Institute (EPRI). Data from the assessment clearly showed that children receiving the grant, particularly those enrolled at birth, completed more grades of schooling and performed better academically. They were also less likely to experience illness or stunting and more likely to have their growth monitored by a health professional.
The data also show that girls enrolled early obtained higher marks on tests of mathematical ability and reading, and children enrolled at birth completed more grades of schooling than children enrolled at age six.
There is also evidence that the grant significantly reduces risky behaviors among adolescents, including sexual activity, teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse, drug use, criminal activity and gang membership.
A crucial lifeline
Peggy Maswanganyi is just one of the mothers for whom the monthly grant is a lifeline. There are currently no employed adults in her household. She lives in the small village of Mtsetweni, in the rural province of Limpopo, where around 54 per cent of children live in households that have no economically active members. With the support of a community volunteer, Peggy applied for the grant within the first few months of the birth of her baby, Hlamlani. The grant money is used for transportation to the local clinic for routine check-ups, and for the baby’s clothes and food.
A central feature of the Child Support Grant is that it is largely unconditional. Research shows that caregivers who are entrusted with the grant – mostly women – are investing the grant in good nutrition, schooling, care and other essentials. And in the context of widespread poverty and unemployment, the grant often benefits the entire household.
Increasing grant access
Since it was first introduced in 1998, the number of children receiving the grant has increased more than tenfold. Over the years, the age limit for eligibility was increased from 7 to 18 and the income threshold of the household was raised to reach more children. Simplification of the application process and greater flexibility in grant collection options have also helped increase enrolment.
Yet enrolment remains low for the youngest children – despite the finding that gains are greatest when children are enrolled at birth. In total, more than two million eligible children are not benefitting from the grant. The most frequently cited reasons for this are: problems acquiring the necessary documents; lack of information about application procedures or misinformation about eligibility; complex and slow bureaucracy; prohibitive costs such as transportation; and disputes within families about whether to apply and who should register as the primary caregiver.
The findings of the impact assessment will be used to address these obstacles and ensure that all eligible children are reached.
Smiley G and Polly G on a grant tour ( A Social Grants booklet for children)