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More than half of South Africa’s children live in poverty

August 8, 2013

More than half of South Africa’s children live in poverty, a damning report by the United Nations children’s agency has revealed.

Eighteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is now judged to be one of the most unequal societies in the world and its 19 million children bear the brunt of the disconnect.

The Unicef report found that 1.4 million children live in homes that rely on often dirty streams for drinking water, 1.5 million have no flushing lavatories and 1.7 million live in shacks, with no proper bedding, cooking or washing facilities.

Four in 10 live in homes where no one is employed and, in cases of dire poverty, the figure rises to seven in 10.

A total of 330,000 children – and five million adults – are currently infected with HIV, and 40 per cent die from the pandemic annually.

Child support grants, introduced in 1997, now reach 10.3m children but another one million who are eligible do not yet receive them.

The figures were contained in a leaked report detailing Unicef’s joint plans with government to tackle the problems.

Aida Girma, Unicef’s South African representative, said that two thirds of child deaths were preventable with simple improvements in primary care for children.

She added that if “drastic” changes were not made immediately, South Africa would fail to achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goals of eradicating child and maternal mortality and malnutrition.

“Because of inequality in South Africa, national statistics tend to mask some of the worst cases,” she said. “The government has a strong legal framework and a lot of pro-poor policies and has made significant investment in these areas but some children are still being left behind. We need to look at why all this investment is not translating into results for these children.”

Rhoda Kadalie, executive director of Impumelelo Social Innovations Centre which seeks out novel ways to tackle poverty, said the problem could be traced back to 1994, when the post-apartheid, ANC government focused on “the economy, black economic empowerment and the consolidation of power” rather than education and health care.

“These subjects are not sexy and those ministries are given to the weaker ministers who have little political power,” she said. “As a result, we are awash with policies but there’s no political will or competence at a local level to implement them. The facts speak for themselves: if we don’t invest in our children now, we might as well give up on our future.”

Mac Maharaj, President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman and a minister in the post-1994 government said the government had inherited a broken society but worked hard to fix it.

“We didn’t take into account the realities of what we had inherited, we had no way of measuring what they were,” he said. “We may have made mistakes, but we didn’t neglect the issues.”

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