Maverick Citizen

Food Justice

FIGHT FOR FOOD

Nonprofit sounds alarm over rising child hunger fuelling ‘perpetual cycle of poverty’ in SA

Nonprofit sounds alarm over rising child hunger fuelling ‘perpetual cycle of poverty’ in SA
A 10-year-old boy eats a meagre meal in Gxulu locality, Libode, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

As we mark World Hunger Day (28 May) – which is dedicated to raising awareness of the global hunger crisis and malnutrition – South African NPO workers warn the hunger crisis is growing, and flag the multiple ills that accompany child neglect and abuse.

Rise Against Hunger gives food to early childhood development centres (ECDs) and creates sustainable farming projects and disaster relief activities to eradicate hunger one meal at a time. The organisation has packed more than 57 million meals globally.

In South Africa about 10 million adults and nearly three million children experience hunger, a 2021 study found, and 600,000 children were experiencing perpetual hunger, hunger every day or almost every day.

According to the Hunger Project, founded in 1918, hunger has affected humanity since the beginning of time. It is a chronic state of malnutrition that results from a lack of access to sufficient food. 

Rise Against Hunger chief executive Brian Nell said that in their engagement with communities they often hear about parents not being able to pay the average ECD fee of R300 in some months. “In some cases the parents are then forced to leave their children at home. Apart from them not receiving a daily nutritious meal for that period, there are also major concerns around their safety (home alone) and losing out on valuable foundation-phase educational activities. It’s a huge setback.”

This was concerning because the developmental years are critical. Between the age of one and six “good nutrition and education are vital if they are to have a chance of completing high school, entering a tertiary education facility and then being able to find suitable income to support themselves. Given that one in four (25%) children born in SA are born developmentally stunted, the first 1,000 days of their life also needs urgent intervention.”

With the elections around the corner, Daily Maverick asked Nell what he thinks the state can do better to partner with organisations such as Rise Against Hunger. He highlighted the plight of children outside the formalised ECD centres who often fall through the cracks. 

“One of Rise Against Hunger Africa’s core focus areas is the support of unregistered ECDs. By providing (donating) nutritious meals to these facilities, it creates a savings for the ECD. By reinvesting the savings into the ECD, it helps create a better learning and educational environment. Ultimately, we are trying to assist these ECDs to be able to register and start receiving a grant. However, the process is challenging. The Department of Basic Education should be engaging with organisations like ours to support this initiative. Currently the government does not recognise unregistered ECDs, however they are a reality and care for thousands and thousands of children during their foundation years,” he said.

The organisation runs campaigns and corporate meal-packing events throughout the year, but Nell says they look forward to commemorative days such as Mandela Day in July because they always raise awareness among many companies to support communities. “We host several multicorporate events across the country to give companies an opportunity to pack nutritious meals for 67 minutes. Our meals have a one-year shelf life, so this is not a one-off exercise and [we] will build supplies for several months. The more meals we pack, the more ECDs we will be able to support.”

Nell said that over the past five years they have seen an increased need for hunger alleviation in the communities they serve, and that they are inundated with requests daily. 

“We have always been aware that many children we provide meals for while attending their ECD during the week, don’t have any food over the weekend. The request from principals to provide additional meals for ‘take home’ has been increasing steadily.”

Violence against children

Sadie Ndzakayi, a social worker at the Rehoboth Children’s Village, who cares for abandoned or orphaned children, paints a grim picture echoing Nell’s sentiments that child neglect and abuse are often paired with multiple social ills. Factors that contribute to child neglect and violence against children are “alcohol and substance abuse, joblessness, unemployment, lack of parental skills, and lack of a family structure so less protection and supervision for children”.

The village has 15 specially designed homes with five children each. They are cared for by a local housemother. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: KZN social development department tried to ‘cushion’ NPO budgets in previous years, now it’s cutting funding

Ndzakayi said she has noticed an increase in reported cases of sexual violence towards children. At the beginning of the year “we saw a lot of sexual assault of very young children”, she said, adding that if somebody thinks a child might be neglected or abused, they should report it to a community caregiver or, preferably, their area social worker, the police or community policing forums.

During Department of Social Development events marking Child Protection Week last week, Minister Lindiwe Zulu said that while much had been achieved in protecting the rights of children, there was much to be done. “We have come a long way and achieved much as a nation in protecting and promoting the rights of our children, although we still have a number of serious challenges that confront us. 

“One of the major concerns for me is the unacceptably high levels of violence against children in our country. We have all heard of the tragic story of the six-year-old Joslin Smith who went missing from Saldanha Bay on 19 February and to this day has not been found. Hers is a sad story of many children in our country whose rights are violated and robbed of their childhood.

“The government, corporations and communities can assist safe havens such as Rehoboth by having programmes implemented in preschools, schools and communities and churches to allow children to learn and be aware of dangers that can affect them from a very young age. And educate parents on good parenting skills and make adults aware of symptoms of abuse in children and that they know how and where to report.” 

Nell concluded by stressing the consequences of malnourished children: “If more focus and support is not given to children during their critical foundational years, we will continue to have thousands of young adults who will miss out on entering the economy, and the perpetual cycle of poverty for many will continue.” DM

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