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Child well-being and poverty indicators in South Africa

Creating the real picture

Report of the workshop held in Cape Town and the establishment of a Child Research Network

February 2003


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Background to the workshop

The workshop was organised as part of an ongoing effort to consolidate data and advance a co-ordinated approach for the further collection of child well-being indicators, building on initiatives from the exploratory conference on child indicators held in October 2002.

The workshop was hosted by The Children’s Institute (CI) of the University of Cape Town (UCT), the Children’s Budget Unit of the Institude for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), the Child and Youth Research and Training Programme (CYRTP) of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the Department of Social Development (DSD).

Poverty in South Africa

The context of children in South Africa provides more than enough rationale for the workshop:. Poverty, unemployment and inequality appear to be increasing. At least 45% of the South African population lives in absolute poverty1, and many households still have unsatisfactory access to clean water, energy, health care and education2. The unemployment rates have risen from 33% in 1996 to 37% in 20013. The rising inflation rates have caused escalating food prices, which impact directly on the well-being of the poor. Children are particularly vulnerable in situations of poverty. “It is estimated that in 2002 about 11 million children under 18 years in South Africa were living on less than R200 per month and hence were desperately in need of income support” (Streak 20024).

What is Poverty?

Poverty is more than merely income insufficiency. It is the “inability of individuals, households or communities to command sufficient resources to satisfy a socially acceptable minimum standard of living”5 It includes a lack of opportunity, lack of access to assets and credit, as well as social exclusion. It is complex and multi-faceted, fluctuating in depth and duration.

Considering the current living conditions of children in South Africa, it is apparent that indicators of their well-being would be broader than merely income poverty measures.

The Need for Child Well-being Data

The South African Constitution accords children special socio-economic rights in recognition of their particular vulnerability and need for special protection. Steps to effect these rights have been targeted at the child and family. However, the impact of such interventions are difficult to measure and track due to the shortage of child well-being and poverty data. This problem is exacerbated by the limitations encountered in using national survey data as most surveys use the household as a unit of analysis. Consequently there is very little data on household members disaggregated by age and gender.

Thus indicators of child well-being are necessary in order to:

  • Define policy targets.
  • Monitor policy and programme implementation processes.
  • Evaluate policy and programme effects.
  • Model child developmental pathways and outcomes under different family and social conditions.
  • Make local, regional and/or international comparisons.
  • Report to all levels of government and the international community on the state of children. (Dawes 2003. Human Science Research Council(HSRC). Presentation Made to this Workshop)

  1. Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System. 2002. “Transforming the present, Protecting the Future: Consolidated report”. p16. Figure varies between 45% and 55% depending on the poverty line and measure used. Further details on this figure were not available.
  2. NEDLAC FOCUS POVERTY, Dialogue Vol. 2, No. 3:
  3. CoI. Ibid. p.20. Using an expanded definition of unemployment.
  4. Streak J. 2002. Child Poverty Monitor No. 1. IDASA.
  5. May 2000. Committee of Inquiry. 2002:15.

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