Children in SA Condemned to Poverty?
In a new assessment, the World Bank worries that South African children will not escape poverty. The Bank used the Human Opportunity Index to examine circumstances at birth leading to unequal opportunities.
A new assessment by the World Bank has found that the dismantling of apartheid has not allowed for social transformation that will lift all the youngest citizens of the “Rainbow Nation” out of poverty.
Nearly two decades after the end of apartheid in South Africa, the G-20 member has transformed its economy and helped a black middle-class grow; yet, a child’s gender, ethnicity and education level continue to determine his or her chances of a bright future, says the international financial institution. Blacks continue to disproportionately share in the hardships of poverty.
“South Africa, the continent’s largest economy by far and its only G-20 member, displays strikingly high and persistent inequality and marginalization for an upper middle-income country,” said the Bank’s report.
According to World Bank data, the average income in this country of more than 50 million people is $6,960, but nearly a quarter of the population lives below the national poverty line.
South Africa is also part of the economic group of industrializing countries known as the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. But, unlike Brazil, which has narrowed its inequality gap through such programmes as Bolsa Familia and Zero Hunger, South Africa has not made such progress. The poorest half of the country owns less than ten per cent of the national wealth. Meanwhile, the richest ten per cent alone own more than half of the national wealth.
“The global headwinds have put into even sharper focus the demanding policy challenges of high inequality and unemployment in the country,” said country director Asad Alam last week in a press release about the Bank’s report, South Africa Economic Update: Focus on Inequality of Opportunity.
According to the Human Opportunity Index in its inaugural application to South Africa, progress in South Africa has been mixed.
On one side are the gains: progress toward universal primary education, electricity and telecommunications. On the other side are remaining challenges, including access to safe water, sanitation and health care. While the country has made strides in improving access to education, not all children are completing primary school or attending early childhood education programmes.
The circumstances of a child’s birth continue to have a bearing on their current and future opportunities. For instance, black children dwelling in rural regions with parents who did not complete their schooling were most likely to miss out on education themselves and have no access to health care.
South African children must work harder to overcome their disadvantages at the start. And yet when they become adults and enter the job market, they are faced with many of the setbacks once again, says the Bank.
That said, the situation is not hopeless, as the development of other now middle-income countries has shown.
"The only way to reverse the trend of inequality is to invest in education," said economist Azar Jammine, in the AFP.
The Index, as used by South Africa’s Latin American peers, can be a powerful tool for identifying, monitoring and targeting social policy to eliminate inequalities—to stop the intergenerational transmission of poverty, inequality and long-living lack of opportunity.
SOS Children's Villages
31 July 2012