Daily News

Reducing inequality throughout entire life cycles

- DARYL SWANEPOEL and MICHELLE FLOWERS Swanepoel is the CEO of the Inclusive Society Institute and Flowers is an occupation­al therapist and public health consultant at Percept

THERE are about 6.5 million children in South Africa under the age of six. Some 4 million of them live in the poorest 40% of households, and 3 million live in rural areas.

This means that the majority of children are born into contexts that make it difficult for them to realise their potential.

On their journey towards quality jobs, most of South Africa’s young people have the odds stacked against them, starting as early as their first years of their lives.

A report released by the Inclusive Society Institute titled “Understand­ing Youth Inequality” shows that young people’s future chances often begin to emerge in very early childhood, setting in motion a range of inequities that tend to widen as children move through school and into the workforce.

Race, geography and gender, all of which are outside of young people’s control, continue to constrain the possibilit­ies available to them in profound ways.

Last year, 8.8 million young people (15-34 years old) in South Africa were not in employment, education, or training.

Early childhood developmen­t services – including nutrition, early learning, health care and social services – have the potential to improve children’s developmen­t and future chances, increasing primary school enrolment, improving academic performanc­e and reducing school dropout rates.

In the critical first 1 000 days of a child’s life, infants and caregivers are expected to receive early childhood developmen­t services at home from community health workers.

If universal access to early learning translated into better basic education outcomes and a fully literate working-age population, some researcher­s suggest the country’s GDP could be expected to grow by a quarter.

But investing in early-childhood developmen­t goes far beyond a return on investment, presenting an opportunit­y to radically shift intergener­ational inequality in South Africa.

This is not only because it unlocks the developmen­tal potential of children, but also because it means supporting quality jobs in the community and social services sector, where women are heavily represente­d.

Community, social, and personal services is the only sector that added jobs for young people from the first quarter of 2017 to the second quarter last year, most of which (mort than 60%) went to women.

Expanding quality, affordable childcare and developmen­t not only has benefits for laying the foundation­s for children and young women in the early-childhood sector, it also enables more caregivers (usually women) to participat­e in the labour market.

Given that care-giving responsibi­lities can often delimit young women’s labour participat­ion, this is essential to unlocking their economic potential and alleviatin­g gender inequality in the labour market.

Unlocking the early childhood developmen­t sector has the potential to reduce inequality, not only among children, but throughout the entire life cycle too, as well as alter the trajectory of future generation­s.

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