Society must invest in children to ensure a prosperous future

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe says society must invest in its children to ensure that the country has a bright future.

The Minister responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation said this when he addressed the launch of the South African Child Gauge 2017 in Observatory, Cape Town, on Tuesday. The gauge, which is published by the University of Cape Town’s Children’s Institute in partnership with several institutions, explores what the country’s children need to not only survive, but to also thrive.

The gauge found, among others, that while child poverty has decreased and children’s survival and access to basic services has improved, this is still not enough to unlock the full potential of all children.

Violence, poverty, hunger and poor quality education continue to compromise children’s development and life chances.

Minister Radebe said the launch of the gauge was fitting, as it took place not long after government launched the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign.

“If we want to transform South Africa into a society with stable families and communities, strong and accountable institutions, sustainable economic growth, a country that maximises the potential of its people, that is culturally rich and has a place in the changing world, we need to pay careful attention to how we are raising our children.

“To radically transform South Africa requires us to invest in their care, health, education and protection. It is fundamental that we invest in our children from an early age,” he said.

Gauge must be used to improve services

The Minister said the findings of the Child Gauge must be used to strengthen the public service and to also aid other sectors, including the private sector and civil society organisations, to enable them to better respond to the needs of children.

He said the right indicators were needed to ensure the National Development Plan correctly tracks the progress that the country is making to improve the lives of children.

“We must remove all barriers for children to access quality services, particularly in the first 1 000 days of their lives.

“As a nation, we must be mindful of the importance of investing in our children if we want to move the country forward. Parents, care givers, teachers and policy makers need to remember that we are today deciding on what country we want in the future. The way we raise or treat children and what we teach them about who they are, their potential and power is all moulding the adults they will be tomorrow,” Minister Radebe said.

The high cost of child neglect

Releasing the key findings of the South African Child Gauge 2017, Lucy Jamieson, a Senior Researcher at the Children’s Institute, said a recent study found that violence against children cost South Africa an estimated R239 billion – or 6% of the GDP – in 2015.

In addition, stunting – which is a sign of malnutrition that affects one in four children under the age of five in South Africa – compromises the child’s education, long term health and employment prospects, and costs the country an estimated R62 billion annually.

On a positive note, she said South Africa has progressed in some areas to ensure that children have access to basic services. She said 89% of children had access to electricity and 68% had access to water, while 58% had access to sanitation.

She said while this marked progress, it was an indication that more still needs to be done to ensure that more of them are not left behind.

“The gauge tries to assess South Africa’s progress in realising children’s rights. Children have a fundamental right to thrive,” she said.

Laying the best foundation for life

The gauge also focused the need to nurture and care for children from an early age.

While sectors like education, health and social development all need to collaborate to ensure children can access services seamlessly, Jamieson also said that there is a need to adopt a life-course approach towards improving the welfare of children.

She said their progress must be tracked from conception – ensuring that their mothers have a healthy pregnancy through adequate screening to ensuring that they get good nutrition at an early age, that they receive good parenting, they access early learning, they receive good language development and that they get a good foundation in literacy and numeracy.

Meanwhile, Minister Radebe called for society to protect all its children.

He said despite democratic and economic reforms since 1994 that have resulted in average growth in the economy, many children are trapped in poverty and are excluded from important aspects of social, economic and political life.

He said that the compounding the problem is that 21% of children do not live with their parents.

Poverty is higher for 40% of children growing up without their fathers, the Minister said.

He said that although measures such as the child support grant have been successful to reduce the proportion of children living below the food poverty line (from 60% to 30%), the absolute number of children still living below the food poverty line remains high at 5.5 million.

“We need to build on the successes of the various development programmes and invest in initiatives that strengthen the capabilities of caregivers, recognising that most of our children are not living with their biological parents. The role of fathers in their children’s well-being and development also needs to be more emphasised,” Minister Radebe said. –

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