The State of the World's Children 2000

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Panel 1 - South Africa: Helping children by helping families

A group of young South African children files into the park, their eyes wide with anticipation. Suddenly, 2 four-year-old boys dash over to a bright red climbing structure, their squeals of glee piercing the din of traffic. The boys scramble up a ladder, while several girls, their black hair in short pigtails and colourful beads, bolt for the swings. Soon the play equipment is swarming with giddy children, while their caregivers chat on a nearby bench. The scene looks utterly normal, like many playgrounds the world over. Which is what is so remarkable: because Joubert Park is so much more than a playground.    
Copyright© 1999 UNICEF/ 95-1112/Pirozzi
Children in a playground in Johannesburg.

The park is a swatch of green in the crime-ridden inner-city neighbourhood of Hillbrow in Johannesburg, one of the world's most violent cities. Until last year, the formerly 'whites only' park was a magnet for everyone from hawkers to squatters, and its sidewalks served as a crowded taxi stand for commuters. The Johannesburg Art Gallery, located here, was largely abandoned as its former well-heeled clientele fled the inner city.

A renaissance is now under way in the heart of Johannesburg, and it is being spearheaded by, of all things, an innovative child-care centre. The Joubert Park Child and Family Resource Service, housed in a low-slung building beneath shade trees in a corner of the park, is part of the Impilo (meaning 'life') Project. Managed by the provincial Gauteng Department of Education (GDE), Impilo is a series of linked pilot projects that are developing new multi-service approaches to early childhood care and development. The Joubert Park Service, led by Cynthia Ndaba, is building partnerships, including one between the Service and the health clinic, to help families and communities meet the needs of young children for health, safety and nutrition.

But this is not simply a crèche. Aimed at providing opportunities for poor people and rejuvenating a blighted neighbourhood, it is a model of comprehensive care for children that promotes the major pillars of children's rights.

The idea for a crèche-cum-empowerment centre came about after South Africa's first democratic election in 1994, which ended a half-century of white minority rule that had entrenched striking inequities for children. The province of Gauteng, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is home to about 1 million children below the age of six. Fifty-nine per cent of Gauteng households are classified as poor, and 6 out of 10 mothers of school-age children are unemployed. Early childhood care has been nearly non-existent for black children: 80 per cent of pre-schoolers in the province were not being served by any programme. "We needed a new framework that overcame the inequalities of the past," asserts Carole Liknaitzky, Impilo Project manager for GDE.

Since opening in 1998, the Project's pilot programme has striven to be a catalyst for providing a broad range of services to lower-income families. At its heart is the centre that provides day care for the poorest children in the neighbourhood, many of whom had been shuttered inside high-rise apartment blocks that ring the park. The crèche is adjacent to a mother-child health clinic that offers care to children, their families and the community.

In an ambitious effort, the Project has also taken on the challenge of making the neighbourhood child- and family-friendly again. It is working with the police to improve safety around the park and has joined with the provincial Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environmental and Land Affairs to clean up the park and provide nature outings and education to children and their families. Even the Art Gallery, once a bastion of white privilege, is now involved, offering arts education to caregivers from the Project. This 'web of linked services' is Impilo's holistic approach to early childhood care.

About early childhood care
  • Assuring the best for children throughout their lives depends on assuring them the best beginnings: The health and well-being of their mothers are essential, as is the care and attention children receive during their earliest years, from birth to age 6.
  • A child grows and develops holistically, with his or her physical, emotional and intellectual needs interrelated and interdependent.
  • Early childhood care is one of the best ways to assure the child a smooth transition into primary school. It is also a critical factor in the child's subsequent transition to adulthood, influencing both social skills and behavioural choices.
  • The family and immediate community environment are fundamental to ensuring the rights of the child.
  • Attention to early childhood is a critical aspect of anti-poverty strategies to break intergenerational cycles of chronic poor health and suboptimal human development.

 
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