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SOUTH AFRICA: CHILD POVERTY INDICATORS
Research needs to focus on children
Teresa Gutherie, of Idasa, reports on a
National Workshop on Child Wellbeing & Poverty Indicators in South
Africa, held recently in Cape Town.
A national workshop was held in February 2003 with
approximately 70 participants who represented key research agencies,
national departments and other child-related institutions. The
Children’s Institute (UCT), Idasa’s Children’s Budget Unit, the National
Department of Social Development and the Child and Youth Research and
Training Programme (UWC) organised the consultative workshop in order to
examine the existing and required data on the situation of children in
Rationale for the workshop
Poverty, unemployment and inequality appear to be increasing in
South Africa. 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 37.0% in 20013. The rising
inflation rates have caused escalating food prices, which directly
impact on the well-being of the poor.
‘It is estimated that in 2002 about 11 million
children under 18 years in South Africa are living on less than R200 per
month and hence are desperately in need of income support.’ (Streak
However, poverty is more than merely income
insufficiency. It also includes a lack of opportunities, lack of access
to assets and credit, as well as social exclusion. Poverty is complex,
multifaceted and fluctuates in depth and duration. Considering
children’s living conditions currently in South Africa, it is apparent
that indicators of their well-being would be broader than merely income
Within the general socio-economic situation in the
country, children are a particularly vulnerable group requiring special
protection, according to our Constitution, and they have the right to a
minimum standard of living to ensure their survival and development.
Interventions have been targeted at the child and family. The impact of
these measures is difficult to measure and track, due to the shortage of
child well-being and poverty data.
Aim and objectives of the workshop
The workshop aimed at, and succeeded in, bringing together key
stakeholders (namely researchers, key agencies and national government
departments), to explore the information needs and gaps, and to identify
the best possible means to address these, in a comprehensive and co-ordinated
Thus the objectives of the workshop were:
To ascertain what data on child wellbeing and
poverty exists and what surveys are being undertaken or planned
To determine the gaps in the current research data
and the specific data requirements of key players
To discuss and decide upon the best possible
methods for generating the required child poverty and well-being data
To develop an ‘action plan’, within a coordinated
framework, with those individuals/organisations who have a
constructive contribution to, or interest in, the generation of
credible, reliable and up-to-date child poverty data.
Outcomes of the workshop
Many of the key research agencies and researchers in child poverty
and well-being were represented at the workshop and presented their
work, focusing on the design, limitations and their perspectives on the
required research. Also present were many representatives from the
national Department of Social Development, and some from Health and
Education Departments. In addition, a few agencies funding child-related
activities were present. They and the department representatives
presented their data requirements to the researchers. Together the
participants highlighted the main gaps in the data and the types of
research required to address these.
Thus the workshop began the process of establishing
a child research agenda for South Africa.
In addition, consideration was given to the
appropriate structure required to coordinate child research efforts.
Most participants felt that there was need to have some structure that
establish and maintain a database/ clearing-house
of all the child-related research in the country, which would be
easily accessible to all, preferably through a website;
maintain a research agenda for child research in
South Africa (this would not involve trying to co-ordinate all the
research occurring, but rather to keep researchers informed of the key
gaps and data requirements);
keep researchers informed of research activities
and in touch with each other, perhaps through a list-serve, regular
meetings or annual conferences;
facilitate the participation of a range of
researchers around certain research questions and projects (e.g the
South African 10-year review).
Other comments from the participants included: such
a structure should be owned by the research community and should be as
inclusive and representative as possible. While there are many research
networks, there are few, if any, that focus on children. The possibility
of joining any of these existing networks was discussed. It was felt
that there was need for a very specific child focus, which might get
lost if incorporated into other networks. However, it would be
imperative to link with the well-established networks. It was stressed
that the setting of a research agenda must incorporate the needs of
datausers, policy-makers, advocacy groups and funders. It was stressed
that ‘networking’ should not just be for the sake of networking, but
have a clear purpose and aims.
It was agreed by the participants that the four
agencies involved in the planning of this workshop, would stand as the
interim Task Team to begin the process of establishing such a network,
and would explore the various options for its structure and functioning.
Workshop report & child research inventory &
It is hoped to launch the report of the workshop, and the Network,
in Child Protection week at the end of May 2003.
The report and papers presented are also available
1. Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System
(CoI). 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:
http://www.nedlac.org. za/docs/dialogue/ 1998/poverty.htm
3. CoI. Ibid. p.20. Using an expanded definition of
4. Streak J. 2002. Child Poverty Monitor. No.1.