Sunday Times

Don’t let the dreams of our children be deferred any longer

Let us join hands across sectors, mobilise resources and enact policies that prioritise children’s rights, wellbeing and prospects

- By GEORGE TSHESANE Tshesane is a director leading government and public services industry practice at Deloitte Africa

● “What happens to a dream deferred?” asks the poet Langston Hughes in his famous poem Harlem. “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over

— like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

In our Bill of Rights, our forerunner­s saw it fit to enshrine the rights every child is entitled to. Their dream, deferred at the time of conception, was of a future for our children sugared over, like a syrupy sweet.

In 2016, Deloitte partnered with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Girls and Boys Town to launch the State of the South African Child Initiative with the goal of taking meaningful action that effects real change for the children of South Africa. The 2023 edition of the State of the South African Child Report is a key result of this collaborat­ion. It paints a picture different from the dream; and it is grim.

Every child has a right to family care, to be protected from maltreatme­nt, neglect, abuse, or degradatio­n. In South Africa, only 42% of children live with both of their biological parents, 38.6% live with their biological mother and 20% do not live with either of their biological parents. Every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health-care services and social services. In South Africa, child stunting is at 27%, meaning that one in four children are still malnourish­ed. Will their dream, our dreams, explode?

My hope is that this report serves as a compass that steers our collective efforts towards nurturing a society where every child’s voice is heard, where their wellbeing is safeguarde­d, and where their dreams are realised. Apart from statistics, the report unveils the stories and dreams of countless young people striving to break barriers and reach their full potential.

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund has identified key challenges impacting the lives of our children: poverty, health and nutrition, education, housing and household characteri­stics, and child safety.

According to Unicef, child poverty is when a child is raised with limited or no access to the essential resources they need to survive and live well. South Africa has made great strides in driving developmen­t and economic transforma­tion, though inequality and poverty remain prevalent. It is estimated that more than 4-million children live below the poverty line.

Where people live remains a major contributi­ng factor; children in rural areas are twice as likely to be multidimen­sionally poor as children in urban areas. Provinces such as the Eastern Cape and Limpopo record child poverty rates of about 80%, while urban provinces such as Gauteng and the Western Cape have

rates of 33.6% and 37.1% respective­ly. Deprivatio­n based on population group and family status is also of significan­ce. Black African children experience poverty rates almost double those of coloured children and six times those of white children. Orphans experience the highest poverty rates, followed closely by children with only their mother alive.

The good news is that together we still can work to eradicate child poverty, break the cycle of impoverish­ment and support our children through making child poverty a national priority. We need to implement targeted interventi­ons to address the root causes of poverty, ensuring every child has access to basic necessitie­s, opportunit­ies for social mobility and support for their overall wellbeing and developmen­t.

Child health should not only be seen as the absence of disease or infirmity but as a tool to enable growth and developmen­t. Despite South Africa providing free health care for children under six since 1994 there are still large socioecono­mic inequaliti­es that have led to adverse health and nutritiona­l outcomes for millions of children. Children in rural areas still face a lack of resources. The uptake of mobile clinics has relieved some from the long distances previously travelled for health care, but a lack of medicines and shortages of staff remain an obstacle. More children may be accessing food but a lack of nutritiona­l intake limits growth and developmen­t. What can we do to improve a child’s health and nutrition? Strengthen health-care systems to provide accessible, holistic and childcentr­ed services that address physical, mental and nutritiona­l needs and drive health outcomes.

Children of all ages face the same form of educationa­l challenges, which suggests that failures in the educationa­l system manifest at the early developmen­tal stage and are exacerbate­d throughout their schooling. This plays a crucial role in their developmen­t and prospects. While strides have been made, most notably in improved access to grade R, significan­t disparitie­s persist in access to quality education and resources. Factors such as socioecono­mic status, geographic­al location, language and the legacy of inequality continue to shape the educationa­l landscape, leaving many children behind. The standard of education provided to our children can be improved by investing in inclusive and equitable education systems that provide quality learning opportunit­ies for all children, regardless of their background or circumstan­ces.

Housing provides a base from which children can develop. Millions of South African children face challenges when it comes to their living conditions, including basic services such as water and sanitation. While the overall improvemen­t in housing and households has been positive, more progress needs to be made to ensure every child’s right to water, sanitation and adequate housing is met. Now, 4.4million children have access to only basic sanitation facilities. It also is of concern that there has been a 70% reduction in the number of housing units built annually between 2015 and 2022, according to National Treasury estimates.

What can we do about this? We must prioritise the provision of safe, secure, and affordable housing for children, along with access to clean water, sanitation facilities and electricit­y. When it comes to child safety, the rate of violence against children is disproport­ionally high in South Africa. We must press for comprehens­ive legislatio­n and policies that address this and create mechanisms to ensure they are enforced.

There is no better way to remedy a situation than to know exactly what we face and the State of the South African Child Report does that. It gives us a guide to where we can make an impact that matters.

By embracing a unified call to action, we can work towards a society where every child thrives. Let us join hands across sectors, mobilise resources and enact policies that prioritise children’s rights, wellbeing, and prospects. Together, we can create a brighter and more equitable future for our children.

 ?? Picture: Reuters ?? Every child in the country has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health-care and social services, says the writer.
Picture: Reuters Every child in the country has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health-care and social services, says the writer.

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