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As SA marks 30 years of democracy, it must prioritise safety of its children – its greatest resource, Unicef urges

As SA marks 30 years of democracy, it must prioritise safety of its children – its greatest resource, Unicef urges
Unicef has launched a manifesto calling for a renewed focus on children and a commitment to prioritise tackling the core issues affecting their lives and futures. (Photo: Black Star Images / Spotlight)

The United Nations Children’s Fund South Africa has called for the country’s children to be put at the centre of the developmental agenda.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) South Africa has urged that the protection of every child be made a priority and called for strengthened efforts to ensure that every child, including migrant children and those living with disabilities, survives and thrives.

The organisation’s recently released manifesto titled ‘Manifesto for every child in South Africa 2024: Time to protect and prioritise childrenemphasises the potential of children and young people – the nation’s largest and greatest resource – to become the driving force in the country’s development, instilling a sense of hope and optimism in our future. 

The manifesto aims to drive a renewed sense of urgency and action to protect the rights of children and improve the nation’s wellbeing. Unicef has called for a renewed focus on children and a commitment to prioritise tackling the core issues affecting their lives and futures.

What the manifesto calls for 

The manifesto outlines core tasks and actions to better protect and prioritise children, especially the most vulnerable, such as those living with disabilities as well as migrant and refugee children.

It also acknowledges the significant progress in child rights over the past three decades and underscores the urgent need for action to protect children’s rights and accelerate progress towards achieving the National Development and Sustainable Development goals by 2030. 

The release of the manifesto follows the concluding observations from the Committee on the Rights of the Child in response to South Africa’s periodic child rights report submission in 2023.

Since then, despite challenges, much has been achieved through the passing of child-sensitive policy commitments and through actions such as reducing maternal mortality, improving birth registration rates and tackling the scourge of HIV.

The manifesto calls for every child to be protected from all forms of violence, including online violence, to save lives and improve mental wellbeing

The manifesto reads: “Promote positive and nurturing parenting, commit to budgeting violence prevention and early intervention work to tackle issues at their core and promote a safer and kinder online experience by educating and engaging learners and youth, as well as working with technology companies to strengthen protection mechanisms.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Childhood exposure to violence associated with mental health conditions later in life, experts say

Quality, relevant, safe and inclusive learning must be prioritised to transform education and improve literacy and numeracy outcomes, it says.

“Improve access to inclusive and quality learning from a young age to build stronger foundational literacy and numeracy, strengthen teachers’ capacity to deliver quality and innovative education, update and implement the School Safety Framework and continue the roll-out of the Care and Support for Teachers and Learners approach for a more nurturing learning experience,” the manifesto says.

Every child should be protected from deadly but preventable diseases by scaling up access to routine childhood immunisations. 

“Ensure every parent is empowered through the Road to Health booklet to monitor their child’s health and follow up on needed vaccinations, prevent vaccine stock-outs at healthcare facilities, tackle vaccine hesitancy by communicating the positive impact of 50 years of the expanded programme of immunisation in South Africa in protecting millions of young lives,” the document reads. 

To support and promote healthier and safer lifestyles, children and adolescents should be protected from HIV, and teenage pregnancy should be reduced.

“Ensure that all learners, adolescents and young people have access to confidential and child-friendly sexual and reproductive health information, effectively implement the ‘integrated school health policy’ and ‘comprehensive sexuality education’, and improve the healthcare experience for mothers, children, and adolescents,” the manifesto reads.

The manifesto also includes a response to the climate and environmental crises.

To mitigate the impact, adapt services and empower children and youth to respond, it urges investment in adapting essential child services by introducing climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene services and renewable energy in schools, early childhood development centres and healthcare facilities.

Children and young people should also be empowered by engaging them and their ideas in practical climate and environmental action, including opportunities linked to the emerging green economy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Putting children at the centre of climate action – every child’s right

The manifesto calls for the protection of every child from the scourge of all forms of malnutrition to reduce stunting, which impairs the youngest children, and obesity, which affects and increases health risks among adolescents.

A 2023 report on child poverty stated that 8 million children are not getting enough nutrition. The manifesto calls for an improved cross-sectoral response to tackle malnutrition by providing safe water and sanitation, nutritious food in schools and homes and early healthcare when needed. 

Exclusive breastfeeding should be promoted to improve the nutritional status and wellbeing of the youngest children. The manifesto also calls for the implementation of effective approaches to improve the food environment for children and youth by ratifying the draft Labelling and Advertising of Foodstuffs Regulations in South Africa.

To support the most vulnerable children and to provide opportunities for the most marginalised youth, South Africa’s children and young people should be prioritised in efforts to reduce poverty and inequality. 

The manifesto reads: “Commit to reducing child multidimensional poverty through child-sensitive budgets, policies, and laws, alongside greater investments in social security and effective monitoring of child wellbeing.”

‘Children must not only survive but also thrive’ 

Christine Muhigana, Unicef South Africa representative, said a nation’s holistic progress relies on a commitment to ensure that its children not only survive but also thrive. 

“The country is rich with creative, inspiring and energetic children and young people, and we need to do all we can to nurture them and transform their lives and futures,” she said. 

The manifesto calls on all partners, from the government to the private sector, academia to civil society, and children and young people themselves, to engage in and strengthen efforts to protect and prioritise children and build a safer, fairer and better South Africa for every child – for everyone.

“Children are rights holders with specific needs and vulnerabilities, that’s why we need to protect and prioritise them; only then can we help to build a safer, fairer and better South Africa for every child – for everyone,” Muhigana said. DM

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