Children ‘in need of care’ or in need of cash?
Questioning social security provisions for orphans in the context of the South African AIDS pandemic
A Joint Working Paper by the Children’s Institute, and the Centre for Actuarial Research, University of Cape Town
Helen Meintjes, Debbie Budlender, Sonja Giese, Leigh Johnson
Posted with permission of Helen Meintjes, Children's Institute, University of Cape Town. The authors invite comments on this paper.
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In the face of international pressure and local concern regarding the repercussions of the AIDS
pandemic for children in South Africa, as well as the review underway of both social assistance and
children’s legislation in the country, there is much debate regarding appropriate social security
provision for children in the context of HIV/AIDS. To date, the focus has primarily been on exploring
different mechanisms for the provision of cash grants to children who have been orphaned. This
includes encouragement by the State of the use of the formal foster care system to address the
poverty-related needs of orphans, as well as consideration of alternatives recommended by the South
African Law Reform Commission in their redrafting of the Children’s Bill.
However, drawing on a combination of primary research and demographic projections, and by costing
a range of different social security scenarios, this paper argues against the provision of grants for
orphans as a category of children distinct from other children. It argues that, given the pervasiveness
of poverty across South Africa’s child population, a social security system that directs interventions on
the basis of children’s orphanhood mistargets crucial resources; is inequitable; is located in
questionable assumptions about children’s circumstances; risks further overburdening the child
protection system; and is not, as a whole, a cost-efficient way of adequately supporting the largest
possible number of poor children who require assistance.
This paper argues therefore that the most equitable, accessible and appropriate mechanism for
supporting children in the context of the AIDS pandemic would be through the extension to all children
of the Child Support Grant mechanism that is currently in place, and for the means test that restricts
children’s access to be removed. Progressive implementation of a universal Child Support Grant
should be based not on providing grants in the interim to particular categories of children (such as
orphans) but rather on drawing more impoverished children – irrespective of their parental
circumstances – into the social security ‘safety net’.