LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT

What children need from you, Mr President

By LINC Fellows 5 June 2019

The prevailing rhetoric relating to children among politicians is that ‘children are our future’. However, it is essential to note that children exist in the present, and unless we invest adequately and appropriately in children and their well-being the future of this country is bleak.

Dear President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa,

Congratulations on your election and appointment to the highest office of the South African Government. With the entry of the 6th term of the African National Congress as the governing party of our democracy, we, as representatives of the children’s sector, beg for your attention to the plight of many children in South Africa.

In the excitement that followed the advent of democracy in South Africa, many of us who work with children anticipated attention to the plight of children who had been excluded from quality services and a decent life. And indeed, many positive developments contributing to positive changes in the lives of children and their families have occurred.

These include the child support grant, which has benefited millions of children; changes in law and policy that are applauded globally as progressive and holistic and with the potential, if implemented, to contribute to the optimal development of South Africa’s children; school feeding schemes which enable children to remain in and benefit from education; free health care for children; and the appointment of South Africa as a “pathfinder country” in the global movement to prevent violence against children.

However, research on the well-being of children and the organisations that serve them indicates that there is a need for further urgent action. The prevailing rhetoric relating to children among politicians is that “children are our future”. However, it is essential to note that children exist in the present, and unless we invest adequately and appropriately in children and their well-being the future of this country is bleak.

Requiring your urgent attention, inter alia, are:

  • 65% of our children live below the poverty line (R1,138 per person per month, Hall & Sambu 2018; StatsSA). This is an emergency issue, “as children living in these poverty conditions” are most likely experiencing stunting and weight deficiencies caused by malnutrition. Malnutrition impacts on children’s ability to grow, develop and learn;

  • 12% of children report experiencing child hunger (Hall, Nannan & Sambu 2018; Stats SA). When conducting workshops with children on the National Development Plan 2015-2030, a primary concern of some children was hunger. It was reported that “children are selling themselves for food”;

  • The poor quality of basic education is failing our children (Ngozo & Mantato 2018);

  • 65% of our children report some form of abuse and 33% report sexual abuse (Optimus Foundation Study 2015);

  • Although fewer than 50% of people in South Africa consume alcohol (WHO 2018), those that do, drink excessively. It is in the households of excessive drinkers that money is diverted from food, education, housing and other basic necessities, with particular consequences for the optimal development and growth of children. Easy access to alcohol within communities, with too many outlets, many of which are unlicensed, exposes children to interpersonal violence between men, domestic violence in the home and violence against themselves;

  • Only one in nine children has sufficient confidence in the child protection system to report abuse (Optimus Foundation 2015). Cases that were reported to the criminal justice system have a 6%-7% conviction rate (Vetten 2016). When cases are withdrawn due to children not being able to testify or a lack of corroborating evidence, children and families are not informed, thus putting children at risk of retribution from the offender and further abuse;

  • South Africa has no clear and equivocal ban on corporal punishment in the home — a form of violence against children that the World Health Organisation has declared detrimental to their well-being;

  • NGOs providing services to children in need of care and protection are reducing services due to a lack of funding;

  • Disabled children are receiving poor services due to a lack of funding and trained qualified professionals;

  • Government is duplicating already existing services for families and children: examples include call centres for domestic violence and war rooms;

  • The failure to co-ordinate care and protection services results in many children falling through the cracks between services and experiencing secondary trauma (Jamieson et al 2017), including children who are trafficked and with refugee status;

  • The poorest children have the least access to clean water, sanitation and decent housing (Hall & Sambu 2018);

  • High HIV-prevalence rates are found among adolescents in South Africa; and

  • The rate of teenage pregnancy remains unacceptably high. Young people are dropping out of school because of socio-economic barriers and poor school performance is contributing to the risk for early pregnancy, HIV infection, sexually transmitted and other infections.

Nomdo (2018), reporting on the above-mentioned workshops with children, noted “most challenging was listening to the painful realities in which most of the children lived”.

They did not articulate easily the abuse they experienced in all settings, including at home, the lack of basic necessities and their hope that adults would improve their lived realities.”

What do children need from you, Mr President?

  • Attention to the failure to implement progressive legislation that has the potential to improve the well-being and potential development of South Africa’s children;

  • Further reform of law and policy that clearly criminalises all forms of violence against children and holds duty-bearers accountable when they fail to provide appropriate services to children;

  • A children’s budget that enables adequate and appropriate services to children;

  • The co-ordination of services to children across government sectors under the aegis of the Department of the Presidency, which is able to hold all sectors to account. In this instance feedback to our periodic reports from both the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of Children was that South Africa needs to consider strengthening co-ordination measures;

  • Strengthen the multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approaches of early education and childhood development, which will have long-term positive outcomes to mitigate poverty, unemployment and inequality;

  • Attention to restoring the relationship between government and civil society organisations that serve children and families so that mutually supported, co-ordinated and carefully planned services to children and families are not politicised, but based on need, within available resources. This includes joint meetings in which there is mutual respect, open sharing, shared creativity and innovation and joint budgeting;

  • The elimination of all duplicated services by government and civil society organisations and joint consultations to ensure that new services meet the expressed needs of children and families and are not just “vote catchers”; and

  • Strong and visible moral leadership against corruption to ensure that resources in government are appropriately used to benefit all citizens, including children.

Giving children a healthy start in life, no matter where they are born, or the circumstances of their birth, is the moral obligation of every one of us.” — Nelson Mandela

We look forward to engaging with you and the Office of the Presidency in terms of taking children’s issues forward in South Africa. DM

This letter is endorsed by the following LINC Fellows (in alphabetical order) either in their individual capacity or as an organisation representative:

Anthony Ambrose; William Bird (Media Monitoring Africa); Giuliana Bland (Jim Joel Fund); Ashley du Plooy; Menaka Jayakody; Dr Connie Kganakga; Dr Hermanean Laauwen; Aadielah Maker (Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance); Anisa Moosa; Dr Renald Morris (Synergos); Christina Nomdo (Commissioner National Planning Commission); Prof Shirley Pendlebury; Simone Rawlings; Frank Sibeko (City of Johannesburg, Health); Joyce Siwani; Charmaine Smith; Dr Joan van Niekerk (Child Rights and Child Protection); Dr Marnie Vujovic.

Linc (Leadership and Innovation Network for Collaboration in South Africa’s Children’s Sector) is a cross-sector (including government) initiative to improve the effectiveness of systemic responses to vulnerable children in South Africa.

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