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South Africa


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This map does not reflect a position by UNICEF on the legal status of any country or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers.

Since the fall of apartheid, South Africa has achieved enormous successes in the political, social and economic realms. Constitutionally assured liberties and freedoms have helped create the political and cultural background necessary for real progress in the realization of children’s rights. Despite these improved conditions, two issues – intractable poverty and the rise of HIV and AIDS – continue to undermine much of the social progress achieved since the end of apartheid.

Issues facing children in South Africa

  • Poverty and HIV/AIDS remain the two key, inter-linked drivers of maternal and child mortality, as well as gender-based and child-targeting violence and abuse in South Africa.
  • A significant portion of the country still subsists on less than $1 per day, with children representing a substantial part of that population.
  • South Africa is the country hardest hit by HIV/AIDS worldwide. An estimated 5.5 million people in the country are currently living with HIV. Women  – in particular those in child-bearing age – are the worst-affected.
  • The HIV/AIDS crisis has compounded the risks faced by children and swelled the number of those at risk. The total number of orphans was estimated at 2.5 million in 2005. It is expected to double by 2015 due to high (and still increasing) maternal mortality, among other factors. Orphans are more vulnerable to violence and abuse than children living with parents and caregivers.
  • South Africa has among the world’s highest crime rates, with children and women victimized in a significant proportion of the cases involving murder, rape and common assault.
  • Net primary-school enrolment rates are 88 per cent for boys and 89 per cent for girls, but many schools are plagued by drug use, gang violence and sexual harassment.

Activities and results for children

  • UNICEF partnered with the Association of Child Care Workers to develop the community-based Isibindi – Circles of Care programme, which trains community volunteers to visit children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. ‘Isibindi’ provides services to more than 13,000 children at 40 project sites.
  • In cooperation with the International Cricket Commission (ICC) and UNAIDS, UNICEF brought its Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS campaign to Johannesburg during the ICC Twenty20 tournament.
  • UNICEF has increased its support of polymerase chain reaction testing for early detection of HIV in newborn babies and is working to provide antiretroviral (ARV) drug therapy for those who test positive. This has resulted in a five-fold increase in the number of infants who have been tested and are now receiving ARV treatment.
  • The Limpopo Integrated Neonatal Care initiative, supported technically and financially by UNICEF, contributed to a 15 per cent decline in neonatal mortality for babies between 1000g and 2000g in Limpopo over a period of three years.
  • The Techno Girls project, a joint effort by the South African Government and UNICEF, gave 1,100 girls the opportunity for placements in science- and technology-based companies – with a chance for more than 20 among them to win full-time scholarships for higher education and another 20 to 30 to get apprenticeships in the workplace.



Basic Indicators

Under-5 mortality rank


Under-5 mortality rate (U5MR), 1990


Under-5 mortality rate (U5MR), 2012


U5MR by sex 2012, male


U5MR by sex 2012, female


Infant mortality rate (under 1), 1990


Infant mortality rate (under 1), 2012


Neonatal mortality rate 2012


Total population (thousands) 2012


Annual no. of births (thousands) 2012


Annual no. of under-5 deaths (thousands) 2012


GNI per capita (US$) 2012


Life expectancy at birth (years) 2012


Total adult literacy rate (%) 2008-2012*


Primary school net enrolment ratio (%) 2008-2011*


Definitions and data sources [popup]

Source: The State of the World's Children

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