Rural children at disadvantage in SA

Leafy suburbs or overcrowded shacklands‚ urban children in South Africa have a huge advantage over their rural counterparts.

An extensive review has revealed exactly what that advantage means for half the children under the age of six in our country: they are being deprived of even the most basic services and‚ as a result‚ they face a lifetime of lower earning potential‚ poorer health and hampered learning ability.

The South African Early Childhood Review 2017 was released on Wednesday‚ analysing over 40 data points measuring the progress of early childhood development (ECD) service delivery.

The provinces with the highest share of rural children under the age of six are the Eastern Cape‚ 60%; Limpopo‚ 83%; KwaZulu-Natal‚ 61%‚ and Mpumalanga‚ 85%.

“This is serious when you consider that 43% of our young children are living in rural areas‚” said Colin Almeleh‚ executive director of Ilifa Labantwana and co-author of the South African Early Childhood Review 2017.

The review found that rural children:

• Live far from clinics;
• Are less likely to be fully immunised;
• Are not adequately screened for developmental delays;
• Are less likely to receive help if they’re malnourished and
• Start school on the backfoot as they’re less exposed to early learning before that.

“Early childhood is a very sensitive period of development‚ with the brain and body growing very quickly. The development that takes place at this time will affect all future health‚ behaviour‚ and learning‚” Almeleh said.

“Children require certain essential services during this time to develop. If they don’t receive them‚ it is very difficult to help them catch up later.”

One in five children is stunted‚ but only some access the crucial Vitamin A supplementation services. This is an example of how things differ across provinces and how an over-focus on national statistics masks those differences — nationally‚ over 57% of children aged 12-59 months received vitamin A supplementation. However‚ in some districts this number is as low as 40%‚ while in others it is over 90%.

Mncedisi Twala‚ speaking on behalf of the Abemi Grassroots Movement‚ said: “We are made to be what we are today because of circumstances. Most poor people can’t get healthy food because they don’t have the means. Children go to bed hungry and they are mainly eating starch to fill up their bellies.”

Where to from here? Multiple government departments are responsible for service delivery for ECD‚ but it is mainly the departments of health‚ social development and basic education.

“This year‚ we have seen the development of a draft national implementation plan and some provinces working on ECD strategies aligned to the policy‚” said Lizette Berry‚ one of the review’s co-authors.

“This is encouraging but to reach the policy’s goal of providing all children with essential services‚ much more work needs to be done‚” she said‚ adding that new leadership structures‚ accountability mechanisms‚ and sufficient budgets need to be allocated to ECD services.

by Tanya Farber -TimesLIVE