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More than half of South African children left behind

More than a million South Africans are born into the world each year and a new report released today shows that the inequity they are born into begins to shape them from a young age.

Almost 65 percent of children under the age of six years old live in poverty in South Africa (File photo)

While rates of child poverty have fallen by almost 20 percent in the last three years, almost 65 percent of children under the age of six live in poverty, according to the country’s first South African Early Childhood Review released today. With child poverty highest in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, the report warns that lack of access to crucial services like early childhood education for many children could put their futures at risk.

From conception to the age of 6, our brains are growing at their rate they will ever grow during our lifetimes. What happens during this period and, in particular between conception and our 1000th day on the planet, can shape our development for years, warns report co-author Sonja Giese. Giese is also the executive director of the non-profit organisation Ilifa Labantwana, which provides early childhood education in KwaZulu-Natal and the North West.

Almost 75 percent of all our energy consumption as young children goes into building that complex grey matter that will carry us through our lives.

“While we tend to think in terms of income, there are multiple forms of deprivation for children living in poverty, including poor nutrition, poor access to health care and higher rates of maternal depression which impact the quality of their earliest relationships,” she says in a statement.

“Many of South Africa’s caregivers live in extreme poverty and face high levels of stress,” she tells Health-e News.“To provide the best care possible for their children, caregivers themselves need information, psycho-social support and access to physical and mental health care services.”

The race to the top may be rigged from the start

Early gaps in development can also widen over time.

Shortfalls in early childhood development are difficult to correct as time goes by. These children are always playing catch up”

“Shortfalls in early childhood development are difficult to correct as time goes by,” Giese warns. “These children are always playing catch up and the education gap between them and their peers widens over time.”

Meanwhile, the inequality that helped fuel the fees must fall movement last year, creeps in from the start of toddler’s academic careers.

“Science tells us that early stimulation’s impact on language and numerical ability is immense,” she says. “The results are life-long (and) they affect people’s job prospects and earning potential.”

“Children from wealthier families have better access to better quality early learning and therefore have a better chance of succeeding in school and in life,” warns Giese, adding that South Africa will never overcome inequality without addressing it in its youngest citizens.”

“Inequality in South Africa will never be addressed as long as we continue to have inequality in early life opportunity,” she adds.

The report welcomes the December Cabinet approval of the country’s the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy, which aims to provide a comprehensive package of early childhood development services to children.

In a foreword to the report, Director and Sector Expert on Early Child Development in the Office of the Presidency Zanele Twala said that the new policy would enable government to track not only access to early childhood development services but also quality. – Health-e News.

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