Rural kids denied early development services

12 October 2017 - 07:23 By Tanya Farber
File photo.
File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ iStock

Whether living in leafy suburbs or in overcrowded shacklands, urban children have huge advantages over their rural counterparts.

An extensive review has revealed exactly what that means for half the children under the age of six: they are deprived of even the most basic services and, as a result, face a lifetime of lower-earning potential, poorer health and hampered learning ability.

The SA Early Childhood Review 2017 was released on Wednesday. It reports on the analysis of more than 40 data points measuring the progress of early childhood development service delivery.

In Mpumalanga, 85% of children under six live in rural areas. Other provinces where this figure is high are Limpopo (83%); KwaZulu-Natal (61%); and Eastern Cape (60%).

"This is serious when you consider that 43% of our young children are living in rural areas," said Colin Almeleh, executive director of Ilifa Labantwana and co-author of the review, which found that rural children:

  • Live far from clinics;
  • Are less likely to be fully immunised;
  • Are not adequately screened for developmental delays;
  • Are less likely to receive help if they are malnourished; and
  • Start school on the backfoot because they have been less exposed to early learning.

"Early childhood is a sensitive period of development, with the brain and body growing quickly. Development at this time will affect all future health, behaviour and learning. Children require essential services at this time to develop. If they don't receive them, it is very difficult to help them catch up later."

One in five children is stunted but only some have access to the crucial vitamin A supplementation.

Mncedisi Twala, speaking for the Abemi Grassroots Movement, said: "Most poor people can't get healthy food because they don't have the means. Children go to bed hungry and they mainly eat starch to fill their bellies."

The main government departments responsible for service delivery for early childhood development are the departments of Health, Social Development and Basic Education.

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