News & events

Press Releases

23 February 2011

New study: Are we keeping our promises to children?

Dimakatso Mokwena
Press Release

Cape Town – The South African Government has developed strong policies for vulnerable children, some of which have been taken up in other African countries and other parts of the world. But in spite of the excellent policy environment, implementation continues to lag behind, failing to reach many of the country’s most vulnerable children.

This is one of the conclusions reached in the first comprehensive review of government-funded programmes and services to protect vulnerable children in South Africa, released this morning. The review is intended to enhance understanding of how government, working with civil society, can improve the situation of vulnerable children. It lays out the relevant policies, legislation, and provisions for programmes and services by all government departments with one or more responsibilities for the protection of children. It also identifies, in each area, key policy, services and resource gaps.  

These departments include Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Basic Education, Energy, Health, Home Affairs, Human Settlements, Justice and Constitutional Development, Police and the National Prosecuting Authority, Social Development, and Water Affairs. 
The review was commissioned as part of a larger 5-year study looking at the effects of grants and services in enabling families to protect and care for their children under the joint burden of poverty and HIV/AIDS. The study is a collaborative project of the Human Sciences Research Council and New York University, with support from UNICEF, the Department of Social Development, and others.  The review finds that social protection – particularly social grants paid to the poorest families in communities affected by HIV/AIDS – provides solid assistance to families. However it is not yet known to what extent social security helps families to access formal services and community networks in providing for their children.

The main author of the review, Patricia Martin, points to a number of structural barriers in South Africa that prevent people living in poverty, especially in rural areas, from improving their condition through infrastructural development, access to social protection and other means of escaping poverty. These include very poor roads and transport facilities, inadequate communication and illiteracy; all of which make it difficult for South Africans to use those services to which they have a right.   ‘

Not enough is being done to remove these barriers. For example, there is no plan to remedy transport facilities and there are no effective national, provincial or local communication strategies that target rural communities,’ Martin says. 
‘Poor sanitation and infant and childhood malnutrition are two of the biggest contributors to childhood mortality, illness and poor development. Yet there is no enforceable sanitation policy in South Africa and we have no nutrition policy that addresses food security and hunger so as to effectively prevent malnutrition.’

Martin points to early childhood development as another area that can help families ensure that their children reach their full potential, but there is no policy in place to provide guaranteed early childhood development services that are not centre-based to children, especially in rural areas. 

‘Rural areas –  where families and children are poorer, where infrastructure lags behind, where services are the least developed,  and where the challenges are the biggest – are largely left to be serviced by civil society organisations and community groups. Government, at all levels, does not assume responsibility and accountability for delivery of services provided for in national policies’, says Martin. 

‘Under these conditions, civil society is left to tackle the hardest problems with insufficient, inappropriate and erratic funding. There is an urgent need for consistent, reliable, sustainable and coherent funding frameworks to sustain service delivery by non-governmental organisations and community groups.

‘Another challenge highlighted by the review is that prevention and early intervention are poorly addressed in policy, and few resources are allocated to them. Although the Children’s Act and other provisions address this policy gap to some extent, the resource gap and accountability for comprehensive delivery at acceptable levels of quality remains a problem. 

Martin hopes that this publication ‘will encourage better service delivery of policy provisions, as well as stronger accountability at provincial and local levels, so that already under-served groups are not further marginalised by inequitable access to services.’  


Government-funded prgrammes and services for vulnerable children in South Africa:

Services and benefits and for vulnerable children: an overview


The full report, Martin P (2010) Government funded programmes and services for vulnerable children in South Africa is also available on

For interviews:

Patricia Martin (main author),
Tel. (office): +27 21 785 4506

Cellular: +27 73 062241

E-mail: or  

Professor Linda Richter

Distinguished Research Fellow, Human Sciences Research CouncilSenior Specialist (Vulnerable Children), Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

Tel. (office): +27 31 242 5544; 

Cellular: +27-82-412-2589;


Kate Pawelczyk

Communications Officer, UNICEF

Telephone: +27 (12) 354 8266 

Cellular: +27 82 336 5565