SAHRC HUNGER REPORT
Children are dying of hunger in the Eastern Cape – declare a disaster, urges Human Rights Commission
According to statistics kept by the Eastern Cape Department of Health, 1,722 children under the age of five in the province were newly diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition between August 2022 and September 2023. Of these, 114 died – 101 of severe acute malnutrition and 13 of moderate malnutrition.
Between August 2022 and September 2023, 1,722 cases of severe acute malnutrition in children were diagnosed in the Eastern Cape. Of these, 101 died, as did another 13 who were diagnosed with moderate to severe acute malnutrition.
Thousands more presented with symptoms but were sent to other facilities for treatment.
The provincial health department only keeps statistics for children under five.
On Thursday 9 November, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) found, following an in-depth investigation, that child hunger in the Eastern Cape qualifies as a disaster and should be declared as such under the Disaster Management Act.
The SAHRC has said this might ensure a more coordinated response to the crisis by the provincial government.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Child malnutrition in the Eastern Cape qualifies as a disaster
The Eastern Cape head of the SAHRC, Dr Eileen Carter, said the data provided to them in August 2022 showed that, from 2021 to 2022, more than 1,000 children were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition in the province and almost 120 of them had died.
It also showed that 25% of the province’s children are stunted – that’s one in four children.
“But this condition is underreported,” she said. “It is a much bigger issue than what the data is showing,” Carter said.
The SAHRC has advised of remedial steps to be taken by both the national government and the provincial government and has set reporting deadlines for this between three and six months.
After the Eastern Cape Department of Health reported an increase in infant mortality due to malnutrition, the Department of Social Development initiated an intervention programme targeting 800 women with children under five who were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Cruelty to Children: What are we doing to our kids?
The Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town also found that eight million children in South Africa live in food poverty, meaning they lack sufficient food to meet their basic nutritional needs.
The food poverty line in South Africa, representing the minimum amount needed to spend every month on food for basic nutrition, is R624 per month per person – higher than the child support grant of R480 per month per child.
This discrepancy means many children in South Africa cannot afford enough food to meet their nutritional needs.
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According to the SAHRC report, “distressing circumstances” were reported by Red Cross volunteers about the living conditions of children in the province.
These included severe food shortages, mismanagement of childcare grants, and dire living conditions without proper sanitation, clothing, blankets and mattresses for children.
“The submission expressed deep concern regarding the prevailing levels of poverty and hunger, expected to worsen due to high unemployment rates, rising food and fuel costs, increased vulnerability to crime, substance abuse, rising HIV rates, teenage pregnancy, and inadequate government pensions and grants,” the report continued.
“The Red Cross furthermore underscored the issue of food insecurity and malnutrition among children, highlighting basic rights such as access to food, nutrition, healthcare, schooling and shelter.”
Their services included childcare grants, school feeding schemes and assistance for vulnerable children affected by HIV/Aids. They emphasised the need for collaborative efforts with civil society to develop self-sustainable communities and break the cycle of dependence on government and donors.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Not so fast — targeted strategies to stop hunger fail to reach one in six children
The Children’s Institute highlighted the worrying prevalence of food poverty in the Eastern Cape, a province where nearly one in every five food-poor children in the country call home.
“It also examined the concept of poverty lines and the calculation of the food poverty line, which is based on the consumption habits of impoverished individuals. The submission included a reference food basket for these poverty lines, encompassing various food items such as grain products, fish, meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, oils and fats, beverages, and miscellaneous items.
“The report emphasised the stark disparity between wealthier and poorer households regarding their ability to afford nutritious foods.
“The widening gap between the child support grant value and the food poverty line was identified as a critical concern, limiting its effectiveness in reducing poverty.
“The submission recommended several actions to address child poverty and improve access to basic nutrition. These included increasing the child support grant amount to at least match the food poverty line, prioritising younger children for the increase, ensuring children without birth certificates can receive the grant, and prioritising birth registration of unregistered children.”
Unicef also submitted a comprehensive report to the inquiry, highlighting that 2.5 million children in South Africa are experiencing poor growth due to a lack of nutritious food. DM