Select Committee on Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities: briefing on UNICEF South Africa 2008 & 2009 Annual Reports

NCOP Women, Children and People with Disabilities

04 May 2010
Chairperson: Ms A Qikani (ANC; Eastern Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented the 2008 and 2009 South Africa Country Reports and explained the mechanics of the UN system and collaborative framework with Government under which the Country Programme for South Africa was developed and implemented. South Africa was part of the UNICEF Executive Board responsible for establishing policy and approving Country Programmes largely as result of its leadership in tackling HIV and AIDS on the African continent.

UNICEF’s strategy in South Africa mainly focused on supporting policy development and reviewing the legislative framework because of its status as a middle-income nation with a significant amount of resources. However, there were challenges faced by the country in important areas such as child survival largely because of HIV and AIDS which had negated progress towards the attainment of health related millennium goals.

UNICEF highlighted several key achievements including the successful review and implementation of the National Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) in terms of health policy guidelines and successfully advocating for the introduction of a Child Friendly School (CFS) framework in the South African education system. More than 2000 girls’ and boys education movement clubs had been instituted nationally with at least 623 of them currently active based on school reports.

UNICEF continued to work on these key areas to achieve maximum results for children despite constraints and challenges such as HIV and crime against children; child poverty; widening of inequality; deficits in the provisioning of basic services; and limitations in the resources available at their disposal. UNICEF saw Parliament as a strategic and key partner n the advancement of the well-being of children in South Africa and would explore ways through which Parliament’s oversight and legislative functions could be supported in their focus on the rights of children.

A Member asked about the operation of UNICEF’s Executive Board and the selection process for membership to the Board. The Member also asked for the disaggregation of UNICEF’s achievements in the education sector on a provincial basis; and the quality of nutrition offered by the schools nutrition programme.

There were further questions about how UNICEF was dealing with increasing maternal deaths in the Eastern Cape and on the integrated district model of Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health in Mpumalanga province.

Meeting report

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) South Africa: briefing on 2008 & 2009 Annual Reports
Ms Aida Girma, UNICEF Country Representative, explained that the organisation would be presenting both its 2008 and 2009 Annual reports because their calendar year ran from January to December. There had been tremendous progress in the past 16 years in terms of ensuring that the legal and policy framework was in place and accelerating programmes for children in South Africa. However despite the fact that many of these programmes had reached universal coverage, there were still challenges in the form of poverty and HIV and AIDS which had a devastating impact on the lives of women and children.

Ms Girma briefed the Committee on UNICEFs work as a leading advocate for children’s rights as determined in terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 190 countries across the globe. South Africa had signed and ratified the Convention in 1995. UNICEF operated under the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) as agreed with the Government of South Africa in terms of a framework for collaboration. This meant that UNICEFs work was not done in isolation but together with other UN agencies The UNDAF for the programme cycle covered by the report had been for the 2007/08 period and had been recently extended by another year to 2009. UNICEF would be discussing with Government during 2010 and would be engaging with Parliament, the Provinces and other stakeholders to define programmes for 2012 and beyond in terms of what would be the priority. As a UN body, UNICEF-SA was guided by principles of impartiality and equality and was an independent voice for children.

UNICEF was one of the few UN agencies that relied entirely on voluntary funds and this meant that it had to aggressively mobilise resources. There were UNICEF Committees in a number of industrialised countries. The Committees were responsible for advocating children’s rights and mobilising resources which were then channelled to country offices. UNICEF had a 36 member Executive Board, of South Africa was a current member. This was the organ that established policy and also approved Country Programmes. When South Africa presented its new Country Programme in 2011, the UNICEF Executive Board would probably request some comments from the UN High Commission for South Africa in Europe. South Africa therefore occupied an important place in the Executive Board.

The South Africa country office was based in Pretoria and had a staff compliment of about 50 personnel. Its operations were conducted throughout South Africa at a national and provincial level. In terms of programme structure, UNICEF-SA had five different programmes, namely; Health and Nutrition; Education and Adolescent Development; Protection and care of children against all forms of abuse, neglect and exploitation; and Social Transformation and Strategic Leveraging. The budget for this country programme, which was defined as a medium sized country programme, when it had been approved initially had been about USD8 million. It had now grown close to USD20 million in the current year.

Because South African was a middle income country with a significant amount of resources, there was a lot of focus in strategy on quality development, research to model innovative programming approaches and advocacy in child policy development. This is why a lot of UNICEFs activities in South Africa centred on supporting policy development and review of the legislative framework. In terms of child survival, South Africa was experiencing problems in terms of achieving health development and health related millennium development goals largely because of HIV and AIDS which had negated some of the gains made in child survival. UNICEF was pleased to see that there was strong leadership being provided in this area and this was beginning to reverse this negative trend. A lot of UNICEF’s work therefore centred on HIV and AIDS accounting for 60% of their time and effort.

UNICEF had supported the Government to review and implement the national Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) policy guideline to include routine HIV testing to all pregnant women receiving antenatal care and also a more effective regimen for pregnant women and their infant children. UNICEF had also worked very closely with the Department of Health in developing the infant feeding and communication campaigns.  Another key achievement had been the review of the National Response to HIV and AIDS at the request of the Minister of Health. This had been done as a joint effort with other UN agencies and a series of recommendations had been made that were now being implemented. Another milestone was the introduction of the Child Health Week. South Africa was one of those countries with the lowest vitamin A supplementation which was a crucial feature of child survival. Child Health Week had been introduced to ensure that children acquired vitamin A at least twice a year. This campaign also integrated other high impact interventions such as de-worming.

UNICEF had developed an integrated model for motherhood and child health in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. They hoped to evaluate the impact of those models during the course of the year. If they were able to generate evidence of how these models worked, they hoped that this would inform the design of the National Motherhood and Newborn Child Programme.

UNICEF had also registered important achievements in education where they had strongly advocated South Africa as well as other middle-income countries such as Thailand to introduce a Child Friendly School (CFS) framework. This was a human rights based approach that was centred on considerations of equity and the involvement of parents amongst other factors that UNICEF was promoting to address quality and the issue of child safety in and around schools. UNICEF had been modelling the CFS in partnership with the Department of Education in about 800 of the 5000 schools identified as priorities for support. They were capitalising on the momentum of the World Cup tournament to push and accelerate the institutionalisation of sports for development as a springboard to address other issues such as the prevention of violence in schools by equipping young people with life skills training.

There had been over 2000 education movements that had been established nationally of which 60% were Girls’ Education Movements (GEM). There were 623 that were currently active. This was a peer education programme that provided young people with leadership skills not only in their schools but also in their communities. At least 623 were currently active according to a physical count based on school reports.

UNICEF supported the evaluation of school funding norms to review the ‘No Fee’ and ‘Fee Exemption’ policy and there were discussions underway with the Department of Education on how those findings could be used.

UNICEF had also finalised a study on teacher attendance to provide insight and understanding of the challenges faced by male and female teachers and the time that they spent on teaching and learning activities. The preliminary findings indicated that there was an 11% absenteeism rate amongst teachers nationally. UNICEF supported this research with the hope that these findings would be used for policy dialogue to inform national education programmes.

An early learning development standard had been established for children aged 0-4yrs old. These standards were being used as a prototype in East Africa and this was a contribution to the scaling up of the early childhood development programme that was considered a priority in the Children’s Act. 

In response to the emergency at the border with Zimbabwe UNICEF had been working with the Limpopo Provincial Government to ensure access to displaced children to education through mobile classrooms that had been provided to increase capacity.

UNICEF was providing technical support to the National Committee on Children and AIDS. The Committee aimed to strengthen national capacity to provide community and government support to a greater number of orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS.

In terms of challenges and constraints that had been encountered in the 2008/09 period. There had been societal challenges such as HIV and crimes against children. Child poverty and widening inequality were present as were deficits in the provisioning of basic services. UNICEF had also experienced challenges of its own in terms limited resources.

The briefing provided details of UNICEFs partnerships and collaboration with Government departments at both national and provincial level, Parliament, academic and research institutions, advocacy networks, civil society, celebrity advocates, UN agencies and embassies and diplomatic missions. It also touched on UNICEFs monitoring and evaluation strategies in terms of internal quality assurance and for the assessment of the impact of major programmes and interventions.

UNICEFs work involved the modelling of good practices and high level policy and programme support and advocacy. UNICEF had identified Parliament as a strategic and key partner in the advancement of the well-being of children in South Africa and was exploring possible ways through which support could be provided to relevant Select Committees and Portfolio Committees to advance Parliament’s oversight and legislative functions that focused on the rights of the child.

Mr T Mashamaite (ANC, Limpopo) asked what the criterion was for the election of members of the UNICEF Executive Board in terms of the structures from which those members were elected.

Mr George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Country Representative, responded that the UNICEF Executive Board fell under what was called the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN. The UN worked through various mechanisms such as the General Assembly where every Member State had the same vote. Below that, there was the Security Council were only some of the Member States had the vote, after which came the Economic and Social Council which dealt with development issues and all the new thinking about development. There were other Councils as well such as the Human Rights Council and more recently, the Climate Change Environment Council. However the Economic and Social Council was the key one for development. UNICEF derived support from that Council and Board members were selected according to groupings of countries into geographic regions which were Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia and New Zealand for instance, coming together as a lobby group and then electing members from that group to the Executive Board. It was possible for a group such as Africa to align itself with some of the other countries that they shared common interests to elect who they thought had to be on the Board for a particular year. South Africa was on the Board currently because their particular grouping of nations had decided that South Africa was a leader ion the issues that were important in the current body of work that the Council would be doing. The Executive Board approved policy as well as funding.

Mr Mashamaite requested a breakdown to be given of the achievements in the education sector on a province by province basis in terms of the figures that had been given such as the 2000 Girls Education Movement (GEM). This would enable Members to check if that figure covered all the provinces for instance.

Ms Girma responded that they would be able to provide that information and they would forward it to the Committee Secretariat.

Mr M De Villiers (DA, Western Cape) asked whether there was anything that UNICEF was doing about the quality of nutritional products offered to learners in terms of the nutrition programmes at schools in South Africa. Had UNICEF-SA done any work to assess how the quality of nutrition contributed to performance at schools?

Ms Girma pointed out that UNICEF-SA did not provide ay direct support to the school nutrition programme but what they supported was its evaluation.

Mr Andre’ Viviers, UNICEF Country Representative, responded that there was information available on the school nutrition programme per province which indicated amongst other issues, but not in depth, the quality of food provided. There was one national report and nine provincial reports that were available and would be provided to the Select Committee.

Mr De Villiers addressed two issues. Firstly, he asked about maternal deaths at hospitals, especially in the Eastern Cape as indicated by recent newspaper reports. What role UNICEF played in addressing that situation? Secondly, he requested further information on the integrated district model of Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health in Mpumalanga province with respect to the mechanism of its implementation.

Ms Girma responded that UNICEF-SA was not involved in terms of delivery and the support of programming interventions on the ground except for modeling. This was because its resources were so limited and it tried to be very strategic in the way that it intervened. It had supported a strategic framework for the acceleration of health service delivery for women and child health. There had been a lot of analytical work that had been done in South Africa and recommendations had been disseminated annually on improving the quality of ante natal care in the form of guidelines that the healthcare institutions were urged to adopt. UNICEF-SA also had a strong track record in the area of community management of maternal and child health facilities. The organization hoped that by strengthening the community aspect, quite a number of maternal deaths could be averted. However recent studies had shown that 43% of maternal deaths were linked to HIV and AIDS.

UNICEF-SA had been strengthening the district system in Mpumalanga to ensure that there was micro planning at the district level and making sure that community structures were a part of that district system and ensuring that community health care workers were provided with minimum health care packages. Preliminary results were beginning to show significant reduction in mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The Chairperson asked if the mobile teams were deployed to remote rural communities where people had no access to education facilities.

Mr Viviers pointed out that the deployment of mobile classrooms in Limpopo was in response to the refugee crisis as a result of the situation in Zimbabwe. The mobile classrooms were intended to supplement the existing infrastructure that had come under strain as a result of increasing numbers of children who attended schools.

The Chairperson requested a breakdown per province of the 5190 teachers who had been trained to implement child friendly principles.

Ms Girma responded that the figures would be availed to the Committee together with other information that had been requested.

The Chairperson commented that there had been reports of unfinished cases in the courts and the misplacement of dockets. Did UNICEF-SA have any role to play in addressing such issues?

Ms Girma responded that South Africa’s model of Child Friendly Courts (CFC) and Thuthuzela centres had contributed greatly to increases in conviction rates in terms of the criminal justice response to child crime.

A Member commented that she was concerned about the classification of communities into urban and rural. This classification ignored farming communities, yet this was where many problems existed.

The Member enquired what the objective of GEM was and if there was any reward that was being obtained from it. Also, the Member asked for the reasons why there was a lack of interest by girls for some these activities.

Ms Girma responded that this initiative was an innovative way of addressing social challenges such as poverty and disease using sport and recreational activities.

Mr Viviers responded that South Africa had a unique situation where there was a higher drop out rate amongst boys compared to girls. In the EFT band, boys nonetheless had a higher rate of participation in hardcore Maths and Science subjects than girls and the there were various initiatives that were being done to encourage girls to participate more and more in Maths and Science.

The Member asked what UNICEF-SA was doing to assist children with disabilities and commented that current infrastructure was inadequate.

Ms Girma responded that UNICEF did not have a direct policy on that but they tried to incorporate this issue in existing policy frameworks on Child Friendly Schools.

Mr C De Beer (ANC, Northern Cape) requested further information about what UNICEF-SA was doing and in which province. He also commented that there were mining companies such as De Beers that had been making money for many years in the Northern Cape. However when he looked at the list of UNICEF-SA donors, he did not see any mining institutions.

Ms Girma replied that in terms of funding, these were bilateral agreements with Governments and funding Committees and the private sector. UNICEF had various funding Committees around the world that mobilised funds for them.

The meeting was adjourned.


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