06 February 2007

Extreme poverty hits SA's children

A new survey by the Children's Institute at University of Cape Town has brought to light that poverty in South Africa is rampant, with children as its prime victims. According to the South African Child Gauge 2006, which provides an insight into the lives of children in South Africa and is based on national data and analysis of this information, over half of South Africa’s children live in extreme poverty.

One in two children in South Africa live in households with monthly earnings of R800 or less. This figure is called the so-called breadline or the “ultra poverty line”, which comes down to approximately 85 euro or 100 dollars per month. According to the last national census of 2001, an average household in South Africa counts approximately 4 people.

According to the survey, in 2006 one in every two children in South Africa lived on or below that ultra poverty line. In total, 13,5 million children lived in household with an income of R2 500 (250 euro or 300 dollar) or less a month.

This is in sharp contrast with the 12 percent of all children in South Africa who live in households with monthly earnings of more than R6 000 (600 euro / 1000 dollar).

Rural vs Urban poverty

While poverty is often regarded as part of daily city life, poverty in South Africa – as in most countries - is more pervasive in rural areas. According to the FAO, the majority South Africa’s poor (65 %) live in rural areas. Additionally, 78% of the people in rural areas are living on or below the poverty line.

Take for instance rural Limpopo, famous for the Kruger National Park. Here, 74 % of the children are subjected to extreme poverty, living in households earning a monthly income of R800 or less. The Eastern Cape Province follows with 73 percent. The Free State and KwaZulu-Natal rank third with 60 percent, followed by the North West (58 percent), Mpumalanga (57 percent), Northern Cape (49 percent), Gauteng (29 percent) and the Western Cape (18 percent).

Complex nature

Poverty, due to its complex character, is amongst the most serious problems any country can face. First of all, it is an issue that is difficult to tackle as poverty is in many cases wide spread, chronic and is often hereditary and being passed on from generation to generation; as in many developing countries, most South Africans born in a poor household will often live their lives in poverty. Last but not least, poverty comes in many different disguises as poverty in community ‘a’ might not be of the same caliber as poverty in community ‘b’. There is for instance a big difference between rural and urban poverty, and both types of poverties need different strategies in order to be countered.

Secondly, poverty is a serious issue as it often leads to other problems, varying from health problems to low education and high illiteracy rates, which may lead to a life of unemployment, preventing people from escaping their situation. Social exclusion is another problem interlinked with poverty, just like high mortality rate, poor living conditions, environmental issues due to lack of infrastructure and service delivery, and let’s not forget crime as lack of money, the non-existence of a brighter future, and no means to survive may drive people into criminal corners they might not want to be in, in the first place. We are talking about drugs, human trafficking, prostitution, murder, hijacking, theft, robbery, and more.

The complex character of poverty makes the issue difficult to address, but that should not be a reason not to do something about it. It means a lot of determination, will power, dedication and walking to walk, and not only talking the talk. One – both the people as the authorities - should remember and realize that South Africa’s future lies in the hands of our children, and therefore we should do our best to give them all the chances in the world and the right basis to build, and strengthen this country.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town


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