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New study: Are we keeping our promises for children?

23 February 2011, Cape Town – The South African Government has developed strong policies for vulnerable children, some of which have been taken up  in  other  African countries and  other  parts  of  the  world.  But in  spite  of the  excellent  policy  environment,  implementation continues to lag behind, failing to reach many of the country’s most vulnerable children.

This is one of the conclusions reached in the first comprehensive review of government-funded programmes and services to protect vulnerable children in South Africa, released this morning. The review is intended to enhance understanding of how government, working  with  civil  society, can  improve  the  situation  of  vulnerable  children.  It  lays out  the  relevant  policies,  legislation,  and provisions  for  programmes and  services  by  all  government  departments  with  one  or  more  responsibilities for  the  protection  of children. It also identifies, in each area, key policy, services and resource gaps. 

These departments include Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Basic Education, Energy, Health, Home Affairs, Human Settlements, Justice and Constitutional Development, Police and the National Prosecuting Authority, Social Development, and Water Affairs.

The review was commissioned as part of a larger 5-year study looking at the effects of grants and services in enabling families to protect and care for their children under the joint burden of poverty and HIV/AIDS. The study is a collaborative project of the Human Sciences Research Council and New York University, with support from UNICEF, the Department of Social Development, and others. The review finds that social protection – particularly social grants paid to the poorest families in communities affected by HIV/AIDS – provides  solid  assistance  to  families.  However  it  is  not  yet known to what  extent  social  security  helps  families  to  access  formal services and community networks in providing for their children.

The main author of the review, Patricia Martin, points to a number of structural barriers in South Africa that prevent people living in poverty, especially  in  rural  areas, from improving their condition through infrastructural development, access  to  social  protection and  other  means  of  escaping  poverty.  These  include  very  poor  roads  and  transport  facilities, inadequate  communication  and illiteracy; all of which make it difficult for South Africans to use those services to which they have a right. 

‘Not enough is being done to remove these barriers. For example, there is no plan to remedy transport facilities and there are no effective national, provincial or local communication strategies that target rural communities,’ Martin says.

‘Poor sanitation and infant and childhood malnutrition are two of the biggest contributors to childhood mortality, illness and poor development. Yet  there  is no  enforceable  sanitation  policy  in  South  Africa  and  we  have  no  nutrition  policy  that  addresses  food security and hunger so as to effectively prevent malnutrition.’

Martin  points  to  early  childhood  development  as  another  area  that  can  help  families  ensure  that  their children  reach their  full potential, but there is no policy in place to provide guaranteed early childhood development services that are not centre-based to children, especially in rural areas.

‘Rural areas – where families  and  children  are poorer, where infrastructure  lags  behind, where services  are  the  least  developed,  and  where  the  challenges  are  the  biggest  – are  largely  left  to  be  serviced  by  civil  society  organisations  and  community  groups. Government, at all levels, does not assume responsibility and accountability for delivery of services provided for in national policies’, says Martin.

‘Under these conditions, civil society is left to tackle the hardest problems with insufficient, inappropriate and erratic funding. There is  an  urgent  need  for  consistent,  reliable,  sustainable  and  coherent  funding  frameworks  to  sustain  service  delivery  by  non-governmental organisations and community groups.'

Another  challenge  highlighted  by  the  review  is  that  prevention  and  early  intervention are  poorly  addressed  in  policy,  and  few resources  are  allocated  to  them.  Although  the  Children’s  Act  and  other  provisions  address this  policy  gap  to  some  extent,  the resource gap and accountability for comprehensive delivery at acceptable levels of quality remains a problem.

Martin hopes that this publication ‘will encourage better service delivery of policy provisions, as well as stronger accountability at provincial and local levels, so that already under-served groups are not further marginalised by inequitable access to services.’

Read more:

Government-funded programmes and services for vulnerable children in South Africa [full report]

Opening Remarks by Aida Girma, UNICEF Representative Launch of the Research Report on Government Funded Programmes and Services for Vulnerable Children [PDF]

Presentation by Patricia Martin, Advocacy Aid: Services and benefits for vulnerable children - and overview [PDF]





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