PIETER TWINE | It’s only right: give our children what they deserve

That this deeply unequal country every day provides care and support for between 1.6 and 2.5-million young children is something of a miracle

16 November 2023 - 22:13
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A child collects water in Hammanskraal during a deadly cholera outbreak earlier this year.
A child collects water in Hammanskraal during a deadly cholera outbreak earlier this year.
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba

In SA, all children have equal rights under section 28 of the Bill of Rights in the constitution. Section 28 proclaims that every child has a set of basic rights, over and above those afforded to all South Africans — some of those rights include basic nutrition, shelter, basic healthcare services and social services and protection from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.

The disparities in wealth and access mean that the worlds into which children in South Africa are born and the opportunities they have access to are incredibly unequal. According to the UN, more than half the children in the country live below the poverty line; one-third of girls experience some form of violence before turning 18, and two-thirds of children eligible for early childhood development (ECD) programmes do not have access to them.

Those numbers alone demonstrate that we are not only failing in our constitutional obligation to our children — the bare minimum we owe them as described by the founding document of our country — so how are we supposed to help them thrive in a deeply unequal society?

World Children’s Day on November 20 — the anniversary of the day on which the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 — is a reminder to consider the rights of children. It’s also an opportunity to give them the platform to speak out on the issues that matter to their generation and calling for adults to create a better future. 2023’s theme is “For every child, every right” and serves as a rallying call to guarantee children's rights.

Access to education

Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres are described as the “foundation phase” of children’s education. The 2021 Early Childhood Development (ECD) Census showed that 42,420 Early Learning Programmes (ELPs) collectively had 1,660,316 children enrolled across the country — but the Centre for Early Childhood Development estimates that each day in South Africa, about 32,000 ECD centres provide education, care and wellbeing for about 2.5-million children.

That  the country is able to provide care and support for between 1.6 and 2.5-million young children every day is something of a miracle, in the face of the DBE’s own figures that just 33% of these programmes receive a subsidy from the department of social development. More than two thirds (68%) of ELPs are registered as a nonprofit organisation (NPO) and just under a third (31%) are part of a larger network or organisation comprising multiple ELPs, such as a regional ECD forums.

Thousands of ECD centres are registered as beneficiaries of the MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet programme, and we work with organisations like GROW Educare, Breadline Africa and Impande to improve ECD conditions. Our own Dream2Teach Scholarship Fund — which MySchool supporters can also nominate as a beneficiary — gives pupils the chance to reach their teaching dreams while also fighting youth unemployment, turning a challenge into an opportunity to create positive change.

Access to water and sanitation

Another of our country’s major inequality pressure points is access to safe water and proper sanitation — and the impact of this access has a major impact on education too. More than half the world's schools lack access to safe water and sanitation facilities.

The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) says every child has the right to a quality education, which includes access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities at school. As children (should) spend a significant portion of their daily lives at school, access to clean water and sanitation is of vital importance. In underprivileged, water-scarce areas, many pupils are unable to complete their education because of the lack of water and toilets supplied in schools. Their report continues to explain that the lack of available clean water has serious negative effects on pupils' academic performance and attendance rates due to the fact that without access to clean drinking water, pupils fail to stay healthy due to waterborne diseases, fail to hold their concentration due to dehydration and fail to maintain proper hygiene standards due to a lack of clean water.

Pupils fail to hold their concentration due to dehydration.

The Woolies Water Fund, a partnership between Woolworths and MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet, has successfully implemented water intervention solutions in schools worth R7.3m. These include more than 600 handwashing stations and 172 water tanks in four provinces as well as providing the capacity to store more than 1,000,000 litres of rainwater at 100 schools, ensuring ongoing access to safe water for local communities.

The water collected in the rainwater tanks can be used for handwashing stations and toilets, to support schools and prevent the disruption of learning due to the impact of water outages. The aim is to assist schools to grow sustainable food gardens of vegetables and fruit for school lunches, and to share the produce with their communities.

Access to (nutritious) food

Unicef’s The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, food and nutrition report found that, in SA, 27% (1.7-million) of the country’s children under 5 are too short for their height, more than 2.5% (143 349) are wasted; 61% (3.7 million) under 5 suffer from anaemia; and 13% (762 615) are overweight. SA has the highest percentage of overweight among children under 5 in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Poor eating and feeding practices start from the earliest days of a child’s life — not necessarily through parental neglect, but because of poverty and lack of access to healthy foods. Worldwide, close to 45% of children between six months and two years of age are not fed any fruits or vegetables, and nearly 60% do not eat any eggs, dairy, fish or meat, according to the Unicef report. It continues: “As children grow older, their exposure to unhealthy food becomes alarming, driven largely by inappropriate marketing and advertising, the abundance of ultra-processed foods in cities but also in remote areas, and increasing access to fast food and highly sweetened beverages. Forty-two percent of school-going adolescents in low- and middle-income countries consume carbonated sugary soft drinks at least once a day and 46% eat fast food at least once a week.”

MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet beneficiaries do plenty of work around food security, such as The Sprightly Seed, which delivers kitchen and food garden infrastructure projects to child-focused projects. African Children's Feeding Scheme distributes food parcels, hosts volunteer events to work in its gardens and helps communities establish small vegetable gardens which can provide food for families throughout the year and create an opportunity for income generation by selling any excess.

We need to work harder to give our children more — better — than what they’re constitutionally or legally entitled to. Delivering on the basics will help them survive — doing better for them will help them thrive.

* Pieter Twine is general manager of MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet

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