South Africa

Child Gauge 2018

The state has a duty to care for the Six Million children living below the poverty line

The state has a duty to care for the Six Million children living below the poverty line
Photo by Atlas Green on Unsplash

With more than six million children living below the poverty line, the state must collaborate with families to provide adequate care, says the latest Child Gauge report.

The Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town recently published a report looking into the situation of 8.3 million of South Africa’s households with children and found that six million children live below the food poverty line. And in order to eradicate this scourge, the state must take more responsibility in assisting parents to give adequate care for children, the report contends.

A central question in the 13th South African Child Gauge 2018 report, was how to achieve a good collaboration between families and the state so that children could develop well and that no child was left behind.

According to the report, 41% of the 8.3 million households are headed by a single parent, who are mostly mothers, living with an average per capita monthly income of R870.

And more than seven million children live in households where the head of the household is a grandparent or great-grandparent, with biological parents often maintaining contact with the children.

The report was compiled by the Children’s Institute (CI) at the University of Cape Town, in partnership with DST-NRC Centre for Excellence in Human Development, University of the Witwatersrand, UNICEF South Africa, and the Standard Bank Tutuwa Community Foundation.

In order to gauge children’s living conditions, the report looked at the interface of families and the state, and the double challenge of families failing to nourish children in ways that the state requires and the state not fulfilling its obligation to provide an enabling environment.

According to the report, the state must focus on building “capacity” and provide “quality response services to families” to couple the growing access to services in post-apartheid South Africa.

And although the state recognises the “multi-generational nature of many families”, different departments have different views of what makes up a family and whose responsibility it is to care for the children, said Katharine Hall, Senior Researcher at the Children’s Institute and lead editor of the 2018 issue.

The state must recognise the various strategies families adapt to care for children and create programmes and policies that cater to families as they are, the report insists.

The report found that 32% of the households in South Africa are “extended”.

And the single person household form is increasing as more adults migrate to cities in search for work, says the report.

Only 25% of children live in traditional nuclear families.

What the surveys cannot see is the extent to which families are stretched, with members spread across different households,” said Zitha Mokomane, associate professor at the University of Pretoria and co-editor of the report.

And because family members are highly mobile, the structure and strategies which families employ to maintain homes change over time, as parents are often away from children to seek work and provide for the household.

With the nuclear family as a frame of reference for policymakers, the state “will continue to ignore the lived experiences of care of many South African children”, said the report.

And although the Child Support grant, which reaches 12 million children every month, is designed to follow the child, when care arrangement changes it is difficult to provide the grant as the administrative systems struggle to keep up with changing arrangements.

According to the report, policies and services need to be “sufficiently flexible” to accommodate and make allowances for the “dynamic nature of family structures and living arrangements”.

Recent legislation has expanded the Children’s Act in ensuring the responsibility to “provide for the realisation of children’s rights” to not only fall on parents and families but to the state as well.

While parents, guardians and caregivers bear the primary responsibility for providing for children and realising their rights, the state is the ultimate duty-bearer,” says the report.

And as such it is “obliged to step in when families are unable” to “provide even the basic entitlement of shelter, adequate nutrition, and other children’s rights”.

The report further shows how the state has not met this responsibility, noting that in some instances “it has been taken to courts to ensure that it meets its obligation”.

The Constitution gives legal force to both statutory and customary law, which makes it more difficult to provide adequate care for the child because of having to navigate changing cultural norms in pursuit of children’s best interests.

With many areas of family life regulated by customary law, children are often not given individual entitlement outside of the welfare of the family, creating a tension between the two legal systems.

Western systems of law emphasise the individual and the nuclear family, while customary law tends to prioritise a child’s development under the protection of its patrilineal or matrilineal family,” said Elena Moore, associate professor at the University of Cape Town.

And as a result, family disputes become difficult to resolve because of an “imbalance of power relation” between adults and children. Since fathers do not have automatic rights and responsibilities towards their children under the customary law, contestation often arises between cultural norms and the statutory law, says the report.

The decisions, opportunities and resources available for caring for children in South Africa are rooted in systems of inequality that are experienced along the lines of race, gender and class. The apartheid regime’s deliberate and systematic incursion into family life has meant that the contexts in which children are cared for are often circumscribed by variables beyond the control of the family,” said Nolwazi Mkhwanazi, medical anthropologist at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research.

The report found that 77% of children who live in lone-parented and extended households, and mainly living in rural areas, depend entirely on social grants.

For a parent to choose to leave a child in the care of relatives in order to seek employment should be seen as a strategic decision that is often in the interest of the whole family, says the report.

Substantial income support” and “quality service” must be the focus of the state’s legal obligation to assist families.

Where the state and families collaborate in the interests of children, they all thrive. This is the goal of governments and families everywhere, too often distorted by short-term interests and distractions,” said Linda Richter, Professor at the Wits DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development, and co-editor of the report.

It is time for the state and families to align their efforts and commit to improving the conditions for children,” said Richter. DM


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