Most children rely on grants

HE majority of children in South Africa rely on the government's social security grant. This emerged during an African Union conference on child and social protection systems in Africa yesterday.

Social Development Department deputy director-general Dr Wiseman Magasela said on the sidelines of the conference in Cape Town a significant number of children – 11 million of the entire population of 53 million – relied on financial support from the government. "It's quite a significant number of the total of children. There are very few children in South Africa that are not receiving the child support grant."

According to a population survey released by StatsSA last year, of the 53 million South Africans, 18 million, or 29%, were under the age of 15.

Another concern raised was infant mortality.

AU Commission social affairs director Dr Olawale Maiyegun said alongside HIV-Aids and malnutrition, child marriages also played a role in infant deaths and stunted development because babies were born with deformities or in poor health.

According to a Unicef study, 23% of South African children are born with stunted growth.

Alejandro Grinspun, chief of social policy at the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund SA, said while South Africa had made significant strides in improving the lives of children, social inequality remained a concern.

"It is a legacy from the apartheid era and it persists – inequality and deeply embedded disparities are not things that go away overnight."

He said it was time for South Africa to do more.

"In South Africa, there are issues related to violence against children ... against women that are a cause for concern.

"Probably, the country can do better in terms of health, in terms of child malnutrition, because for a country with the resources that South Africa has, it is sometimes surprising to find that a significant percentage of children are stunted.

"There is room for addressing that more effectively," he said.

Earlier, Dr Agnes Akosua Aidoo, the former vice-chairman of the United Nations committee on the rights of the child, said demographically Africa was not only the youngest region in the world but it also had the largest child-dependent population.

Aidoo said stark inequalities in household incomes across the continent continued to fly in the face of children's rights.

"The disparities in household wealth have severe impacts on children's rights in different areas," she said.

Aidoo also echoed the correlation between stunted growth and underweight children and the financial support the family received.

Between 2007 and 2011, the prevalence of underweight children under the age of five was 30% in the poorest 20% of households compared with only 12% in the richest 20% of households. - Denise Williams