UNICEF's programmes & future work plan with Committee; Deputy Minister in attendance

Social Development

24 May 2010
Chairperson: Ms Y Botha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) briefed the Committee on the work that UNICEF was doing in conjunction with the Department of Social Development to improve the well-being of children in South Africa. This work focused on key issues which included orphans and vulnerable children, implementation of the Children’s Act and Child Justice Act, preventing and responding to violence and abuse of children, early childhood development and social policy. The briefing also addressed how UNICEF partnered with parliaments to secure the rights of children.

Members asked questions pertaining to capacity constraints on the South African border, the distribution of Children’s Act booklets, child security during the World Cup and the issue of child-headed households. Other member questions addressed the specific mandate of UNICEF and the involvement of UNICEF in the provinces. The Deputy Minister of the Department of Social Development was in attendance and commented on the work done by UNICEF and a representative from the Department of Social Development fielded questions which were relevant to the work that the Department was doing. A sub-committee was established to work with UNICEF and the Department of Social Development.

Meeting report

Briefing by UNICEF
Mr Stephen Blight, Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF, said that the presentation would be split up into three parts. The first part would deal with an introduction to UNICEF, the second part would highlight the work that UNICEF was doing with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the third part would look at how UNICEF partnered with parliaments.

Mr Blight introduced the UNICEF by saying that it worked primarily as an advocate for children and had a presence in 190 countries. The organisation was guided by the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) as agreed by the Government of South Africa. However, UNICEF did not work on its own but rather with Government through a Country Programme. The impartiality and neutrality of UNICEF allowed it to work in countries governed by all types of political regimes and the funding of the organisation primarily came from governments (two-thirds of total funding) and private groups (one-third of total funding). The board of UNICEF comprised 36 members who were elected by the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In South Africa, UNICEF based its country office in Pretoria and conducted regional operations at a national and provincial level, with the help of other United Nations agencies and the DSD to monitor the role of the Government in assisting vulnerable children. The global strategic priorities of UNICEF that were applicable in South Africa involved protecting the rights of children living within the context of HIV and AIDS, ensuring basic education and gender equality, protecting children from violence and abuse and policy advocacy for children’s rights.

Mr Blight said that UNICEF had partnered with the DSD on a number of key issues. The first key issue that UNICEF and the DSD were addressing was that related to orphans and vulnerable children. Within the context of HIV and AIDS, the number of orphans had grown to 3.6 million and many more were living with chronically ill parents. UNICEF had strengthened the DSD capacity to extend the
reach of comprehensive community-based programmes for orphans and other vulnerable children, specifically ensuring that volunteers and caregivers were adequately trained and that children dealing with trauma and grief were being assisted. UNICEF had also partnered with the Department of Home Affairs and the DSD to conduct a study that linked maternal ID numbers with children’s ID numbers on the population register to identify children remaining after their mothers had died.

The second key issue that was approached as a partnership with the DSD was that of implementing the Children’s Act and Child Justice Act. About 85% to 90% of the budget allocated to setting the foundation of a comprehensive child protection system through this legislation, went through the DSD. UNICEF were assisting by publishing child-friendly versions of the Children’s Act and supporting the transformation of 375 children’s homes, shelters and places of safety into Child and Youth Care Centres as per the revised regulations.

The third key issue was that of preventing and responding to violence, abuse and exploitation. Herein the joint response to the high incidence of child abuse involved, on the part of UNICEF and DSD, the strengthening of services for victims of abuse through the roll out of the Thuthuzela Centres, raising public awareness of child exploitation as well as the implementation of child protection action plans. The World Cup definitely posed safety concerns with issues specifically relating to child labour, child trafficking and sexual abuse. UNICEF were providing DSD with support to mitigate these threats. UNICEF was also supporting the provinces of Gauteng and Limpopo in scaling-up capacity to deal with the increased influx of migrant children from Zimbabwe.

The fourth key issue involved addressing the poor early childhood development inherent in South Africa. To face the challenge of improving children’s access to quality learning and development opportunities, UNICEF were supporting the DSD in implementing and rolling-out the national parenting programme, concentrating on non centre-based early childhood development programmes. These non centre-based projects fell within the ambit of the DSD whist centre-based programmes fell within the ambit of the Department of Basic Education.

The final key issue that UNICEF and the DSD were partnering to engage with pertained to social policy. UNICEF were supporting both the DSD and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) to strengthen social grants evidence-based policy and operations and see if these support grants were resulting in positive outcomes. In cases where blockages were identified, UNICEF and the DSD were partnering to ‘unblock the blockages’. UNICEF also conducted a study to establish the impact of the international economic crisis on children in South Africa and had come to the conclusion that the child support grant was vital to curbing the impact of this crisis on families.

Mr Andre Viviers, Senior Social Policy Specialist, UNICEF, dealt with the third part of the presentation - how UNICEF partnered with parliaments. He said that parliaments had the power to create a lasting change in the lives of children and that parliaments were uniquely positioned to send the message that the well-being of children was the responsibility of the whole of society. UNICEF was working with the International Parliamentary Union, the South African Development Community secretariat and the Parliament of South Africa to support law-making, oversight, budgeting and representation capacities to promote the rights of children. Parliaments were utilising UNICEF for its neutrality, technical expertise and its ability to convene power with government, civil society and media. UNICEF saw the Houses of Parliament in South Africa as key strategic partners in the advancement of children’s well-being and UNICEF was looking forward to suggestions from the Committee on how partnerships could be formed to allow children’s voices to be heard.

Mr V Magagula (ANC) said that he was personally involved in a case where a child from Swaziland who had been abused in that country had crossed the border into South Africa. Mr Magagula had seen to it that the child was returned to Swaziland and that a case against the abuser was laid with the Swaziland authorities. He said that a problem existed with regard to cross-national cooperation and asked what should happen in future cases such as this one.

Mr Blight responded that the Constitution was clear - all children in South Africa had a right to care and protection. Foreign children had the same rights as South African children and they too must be offered care and protection. Links were being established with organisations in other countries and it was hoped that issues such as the one cited by Mr Magagula could be resolved in order to restore the rights of the child.

Ms P Tshwete (ANC) said that she was very happy with the presentation as it gave the Committee scope for understanding the work done by UNICEF. She asked whether UNICEF collaborated with the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

Mr Viviers responded that UNICEF was working with the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities to implement policies dealing with the well-being of children. UNICEF had met with the Department in 2009 and again in May 2010 in an effort to coordinate this implementation.

Ms Tshwete asked if there was a history of child-related issues such as trafficking and abuse during major sports tournament and what was being done to ensure preventative measures were in place for the World Cup in South Africa.

Ms H Makhuba (IFP) said that she was happy that the issue of child protection during the World Cup was being considered. She asked what should be done if one sees a vulnerable child during the tournament.

Mr Blight responded to concerns raised about child vulnerability during the World Cup by saying that reports from the 2006 World Cup in Germany had concluded that children’s safety was compromised to a greater extent during the tournament than before or after the event. In all sports events, the well-being of children was a concern and was always a consideration. This would certainly be the case with the tournament in South Africa. The country faced unique challenges that other host nations did not face and within the context of wealth disparity and poverty, these challenges certainly needed to be consciously considered. Mr Blight went on to say that if somebody comes across a vulnerable child, they should contact the South African Police Service or refer the child to social workers and Child Line.

Ms Margot Davids, Chief Director: Children, Department of Social Development, said that the DSD was involved in leading the way in formulating a strategy to protect children during the World Cup. This plan involved the cooperation of all stakeholders. Some provinces had allowed for the provision of child-friendly spaces in the stadiums and social workers would be on hand at all host venues to assist in cases involving vulnerable children. Twenty Standard Operating Procedures had been developed to deal with child-related issues during the tournament but it was the hope of the DSD that emergency action plans would not be required.

Ms Makhuba asked UNICEF to supply information about the locations of their offices, besides the main UNICEF office in Pretoria.

Mr Blight responded that there was indeed only one office, located in Pretoria but that UNICEF partnered with the provinces to ensure implementation of policies in other areas.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) said that partners were required who were willing to assist UNICEF in helping vulnerable children. She asked if the projects in Gauteng and Limpopo were pilot projects or if these locations were chosen for their locality - near the border of South Africa.

Mr Blight responded that the focus on Gauteng and Limpopo was due to the large concentration of migrant children in these areas. The situation in Zimbabwe meant that migrants were arriving in Musina and traveling on to Johannesburg. This was, however, still a national issue and it was hoped that the programme could be extended to other provinces.

Ms Bathabile Dlamini, Deputy Minister, Department of Social Development, said that she had attended the meeting because she could not attend a previous briefing by UNICEF to the Minister of the DSD. The energy that was apparent after the first Children’s Day celebrations had not been sustained and that UNICEF and Parliament needed to create greater awareness of child-related programmes in order to re-ignite this energy. Immediately after the first democratic elections in 1994, the issue of racial integration amongst children was openly discussed and this needed to be re-engaged with. It was necessary to address the issue of human trafficking, global warming and the economy, which all had an effect on children’s lives.

Mr Viviers responded that parliamentarians must be the first to assume responsibility for the well-being of children. The excitement that followed the democratic election and that which followed each Children’s Day did indeed need to be carried through.

Ms W Nelson (ANC) said that a challenge existed with regard to child-headed households. Whilst material support was being given to these households, there also needed to be a drive to support children with non-material assistance such as counseling.

Ms Davids responded that the DSD was working to provide for more than just material support to child-headed households.

Ms Heidi Loening-Voysey, Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children Specialist, UNICEF, added that the issue of child-headed households was certainly a big one. There was a need for both material assistance as well as targeted programmes to improve the lives of members of such households.

Ms Nelson asked whether the results of the study involving the link between mother and child ID numbers were available.

Ms Loening-Voysey responded that the study under question showed that a number of children could be identified from their mother’s ID number in the child’s birth certificate. The information was coded but could have been un-coded to establish the results of the study.

Ms H Lamoela (DA) said that the booklets outlining the Children’s Act were of great value. She asked if there was an Afrikaans version of the booklet.

Mr Blight responded that there was a plan to translate and distribute more booklets but certain financial constraints had meant that the distribution had not taken place yet.

Ms Lamoela referred to a newspaper article stating that 23% of South African AIDS orphans were living in the Eastern Cape. She also cited a newspaper article that said that 13 year old girls had been queuing outside a hospital in Port Elizabeth, awaiting abortion. She asked if UNICEF was aware of these news items and whether UNICEF had any offices in the rural Eastern Cape.

Mr Blight replied that both the issues referred to in the two newspaper articles were big challenges for UNICEF. The focus was on preventative measures because the problem of abortion had roots in gender dynamics, which could be dealt with through appropriate sex education at an early age.

Ms J Masilo (ANC) asked if UNICEF assisted in marketing and coordinating celebrations on International Children’s Day, which took place on 1 June every year.

Mr Viviers responded that UNICEF had previously been involved in the Children’s Day celebrations and he agreed that the celebrations were a good opportunity to involve children in the process of ensuring their own well-being.

Mr R Bhoola (MF) said that the presentation was certainly of noble intention. He had a problem understanding how UNICEF delivered on its mandate considering that it was funded with mostly government funding. He specifically asked if UNICEF found itself in conflict with other organisations and government and whether legislation allowed UNICEF to deliver on its goals.

Mr Blight responded that UNICEF had a Country Agreement with the Government of South Africa. UNICEF programmes were aligned with Government priorities and UNICEF coordinated with Government through the DSD on all programmes. UNICEF did not work outside of agreements made with the Government of South Africa and that the funding from other governments was donated either to specific projects or to UNICEF as a whole.

The Chairperson said that it was imperative that UNICEF, the DSD and the Committee worked together on the mandate of supporting the country’s children. She suggested the formation of a Sub-committee with the Committee that would be able to work out a framework for cooperation and a working agreement. The Chairperson requested four or five members form this Sub-committee.

Ms Tshwete, Mr Bhoola and Ms S Kopane (DA) all agreed to form part of the Sub-committee.

The Chairperson thanked UNICEF for their presentation and excused the UNICEF delegates as well as those from the DSD from the meeting.

Third Term Programme
The Chairperson said that the Committee needed to address the issue of scheduling for the third term. Before engaging with the members on this, she informed the members that the Committee had been invited to a workshop in Gugulethu on 27 and 28 May that would focus on the frustrations older South Africans had experienced with regard to receiving their social grants.

Ms Kopane pointed out that all parties had caucus on 27 May and the Committee could thus not accept the invitation.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would politely decline the invitation and would wish the organisers well for the workshop.

The Chairperson said that 20 July would be scheduled as an oversight visit day in which the Committee would visit one or two sites in the Western Cape. She added that the week of oversight scheduled for 26-30 July would take place in the Eastern Cape, specifically in rural areas. It was also agreed that 10 August, in celebration of Women’s Month, would be set aside for a joint meeting with the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Department of Health, Department of Home Affairs and the DSD. The purpose of the joint meeting would be to enlighten the Committee on how these various departments were improving the lives of women and children through their services.

Ms Kopane was concerned that the Department of Correctional Services would not be present at the joint meeting. It was agreed that another day would be scheduled for that Department to brief the Committee on its role in improving the lives of women and children.

The meeting was adjourned.

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