Opinionista Patricia Martin-Wiesner 21 August 2019

Presidential leadership for government planning for child rights – a development prerequisite

Achieving South Africa’s development vision in the next 25 years is possible. But, to do so, we require nationwide leadership and recognition of inclusive and equal development of children as a national development priority.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is a breath of fresh air. He has a vision and a plan that does not set our the country’s bar at a low “survivalist” threshold. Instead, it aims high, inspired by South Africa’s as yet unrealised potential.

South Africa has for too long focused on survival, settling for having just the basics in place. This has seen dramatic increases in child survival rates, access to basic services, near-universal access to grants and reductions in poverty levels. But, it has not succeeded in reducing inequality in South Africa. Despite 25 years of pro-poor policies, 38% of children in South Africa are at risk of poor development and remaining trapped in a vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

President Ramaphosa recognises that we have fallen behind and are not going to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – with the emphasis on sustained – unless the country changes its priorities and how it does business.

The reality for the majority of South Africans remains a daily struggle for survival. To achieve the SDGs requires raising the bar – historically marginalised households and communities must be empowered not just to survive, but thrive, and in so doing transform the country’s development landscape.

President Ramaphosa’ s message is clear: We have the potential to achieve the SDGs, but it remains unrealised. To realise it we must do things differently. We must focus on critical national developmental priorities and address them through evidence-based policies, effective delivery and accountability for results.

In sum. We must become an effective developmental state. What does this mean? Because of the structural challenges, solutions must be transformative. All government departments must adopt population-scale, evidence-based interventions we know will build human capital from the bottom up – that will free this generation of children from the thus far intractable poverty trap. If we do not do this, there simply can be no talk of sustainable development. Who will sustain it into the next 25 years?

What do we know? We know a leading structural challenge is the persistently poor and unequal development of the majority of historically marginalised children. We know what is necessary to equalise the opportunities of children at risk. We know how to do this. When families thrive, children thrive. When families struggle, children suffer the consequences. Families must be provided with support to provide children with the nurturing care they need, not just to survive, but thrive. There is abundant evidence as to the formula for transformative, inclusive growth and development captured in global plans such as the WHO’s Survive, thrive and transform: Global strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and the joint WHO, UNICEF and World Bank’s Nurturing Care Framework.

Children born into adverse environments must be prioritised – this is the engine room of persistent poverty and inequality. They need, but are deprived of, the care they need to equalise their developmental opportunities. The formula is simple. They need nurturing care: health; nutrition; responsive parenting /care; early learning, stimulation and education; and safety and protection. To ensure that as a country we not only survive, but thrive and transform, every socio-economically marginalised household must be provided with support that will enable and empower them to provide children with nurturing care.

What is missing? Especially lacking is support for:

  • Responsive caregiving or parenting;

  • Nutrition that promotes development and prevents stunting. Stunting is a key indicator of poor development and close to 30% of under 5s are stunted;

  • Healthcare that ensures children develop to their full potential through early identification and support for developmental delays and responsive caregiving;

  • Home-based support to ensure early learning from birth; and

  • Prevention of violence in homes, communities and facilities.

Making sure every vulnerable family has the support they need to provide children with nurturing care requires a nationwide recognition that family support for nurturing care is one of our most critical development priorities. We need a state that places children’s development to their full potential at the epicentre of its development planning and provides solid leadership from the centre – the Presidency.

This requires strong and effective leadership and coordination from the centre. It requires leadership and co-ordination that will ensure, for example, urgent action by the Department of Basic Education to make sure children are prepared to drive sustainable development by not only becoming coders, but responsive parents who know and understand what their children need to develop to their full potential; by DSDs’ provisioning of parenting support; by the Department of Health providing support to parents to enable responsive care that the WHO now recognises as a key determinant of health; that COGTA provides municipalities with support to secure local family support etc.

The Presidency has moved the co-ordination of disability to the centre of government – in the Presidency. This is to provide not only effective co-ordination but national leadership of a national developmental priority. The same must be done to ensure child-centred planning and accountability.

We urgently need a national child rights co-ordination, planning and accountability mechanism in the Office of the Presidency to lead and drive government-wide planning and accountability for child-centred planning, monitoring and reporting. DM

Patricia Martin-Wieser is Director, Advocacy Aid

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