Child Support Grant & Social Security for Children: briefing by ACESS

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

SOCIAL SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE

SOCIAL SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE
18 June 2002
CHILD SUPPORT GRANT / SOCIAL SECURITY FOR CHILDREN: BRIEFING BY ACESS

Chairperson:
Ms L Jacobus (ANC)

Relevant documents
ACESS Flash Presentation on Child Participation Process
ACESS PowerPoint Presentation
ACESS Report on Child Participation Process (email
paula@rmh.uct.ac.za for report)
Executive Summary of ACESS Report (Appendix 1)
Press Release on hand-over of ACESS Report (Appendix 2)
Meeting agenda (Appendix 3)

SUMMARY
The presentation by ACESS listed the seven principles that have to be addressed to improve the current South African social security system for children, and it made recommendations as to areas of improvement in this regard. The primary recommendations were:
- the introduction of a non-means test for the Child Support Grant;
- the extension of the Child Support Grant to children aged from eight to eighteen years;
- a package of social benefits and services should be provided to children;
- the special needs of children with disabilities and chronic illnesses have to be provided for;
- the service delivery of these grants has to be improved and expedited and that children's participation is vital.

The discussion on the presentation highlighted the problems experienced in accessing grants because the child does not have a birth certificate or identity document. The costing analysis of the possible extension of the CSG age limit was discussed, the local food production initiatives engaged in to alleviate poverty and how children who are heads of households cope and whether they are able to access the grants. The importance of schools in delivering social security to children was also discussed.

MINUTES
The Chair noted that it was appropriate that the Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS) delegation would be addressing this Committee today, because their proposals will better inform Members in preparation for the budget debate on Friday 21 June 2002.

Briefing by Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS)
Ms Gail Smith, the ACESS Child Participation Process Co-ordinator, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to address it, and introduced the members of the delegation that would be addressing the Committee: Ms Paula Proudlock and Ms Shirin Motala, members of the ACESS Task Team and Ms Kgethi Matsai, the ACESS Researcher and Workshop Facilitator.

She informed Members that the important issue of the social security of South African children was investigated by the Commission of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System for South Africa in 2000. Concern was then raised with the fact that key stakeholders in this initiative might be overlooked and the result was the hosting of a national consultative workshop in March 2001, which included representatives from children's and disability sectors, to discuss social security for children in South Africa. Participants in the workshop established and mandated ACESS to present its recommendations to both the Commission and the Department of Social Development on this issue, and it was further mandated to conduct the advocacy necessary for their adoption and implementation by government. This research has since been completed, and is contained in the document entitled ACESS Report on Child Participation Process (the Report).

During a meeting convened after the workshop, government and key stakeholders committed themselves to including meaningful child participation in the decision-making process, so that the voice of the children might be heard. This was done during February 2002, and the ACESS findings on the comprehensive social security study are contained in the Report.

Ms Matsai continued the presentation by relating the actual issues unearthed during the child participation workshops, and the problems raised. She stated that different categories of issues and concerns were raised in different provinces: in the Gauteng Province street children were interviewed, in the Mpumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal and Free State Provinces the concerns of disabled children and children with chronic health problems were discussed, in the Northern Province children living with HIV/AIDS and in poverty were interviewed, Eastern Cape Province the effects of poverty on children was addressed, in the North West Province children in institutional care were interviewed, in the Western Cape children living in poverty and in high levels of violence were interviewed and in the Northern Cape the problems experienced with accessing child care grants were unearthed. A total of two days was spent in each province and it became apparent that, despite the hardships they have to suffer on a daily basis, these children remained warm and positive. Some were sad, however, because they were not receiving the necessary emotional support from their parents or primary care giver.

Problems universal to all provinces covered in the study were found to exist. These included education related needs such as not having a school uniform, as evidenced by the quotes on page 36 of the Report, as well children living with disabilities, as illustrated by the quote on page 57 of the Report. The children also discussed the lack of basic services in their households and communities, such as a readily accessible and reliable source of fresh water. This concern was prominent in the Limpopo and Western Cape Provinces, as illustrated by the quotes on pages 48 and 50 of the Report.

Children in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape Provinces articulated the social problems in their communities and homes, such as alcohol abuse, as evidenced by the quotes on page 42 of the Report. In most cases the children interviewed linked these problems to the increased level of unemployment and poverty within their communities. In the Northern Cape Province the problem with the vicious circle of death in the communities was articulated by the children interviewed, and the result is that the children now have to live with their grandparents. The children spoke at length about the fact that their grandparents do not have the necessary finances to take care of them, as contained in the quote on page 59 of the Report.

The children interviewed in the Limpopo Province suffered from hunger and most of them live with their extended families, which means that the biological children receive first preference and the other children have to go to bed without having eaten. This is evidenced by the quotes on page 40 of the Report.

Problems with the long distances that have to be walked to and from school were articulated, and this was especially pressing in the rural areas, as contained in the quotes on page 38 of the Report. The Eastern Cape Province the problems associated with a family breakdown and mobility were articulated by the children interviewed. The related that the constant moving from one area to another disrupted their family life, as evidenced by the quotes on page 43 of the Report. The quotes on page 44 of the Report illustrate the problems experienced by those children in the Eastern Cape Province who have to work to provide income for the family. This caused a significant degree of emotional distress, as they felt that they had to do things for themselves without receiving any form of emotional support from their families.

Problems were also raised with those children whose parents do not have current employment, and those children whose parents do work are far too often unable to access any benefits from the employer should the parent pass away. In the Mpumalanga and Free State Provinces children living with disabilities were interviewed and, as evidenced by the quotes on pages 56 and 57 of the Report, they also experienced hardships regarding the payment of school fees and the lack of facilities at the schools.

On a positive note, it became apparent that these children are vulnerable but brave and on page 62 of the Report the children relate some of the ways in which they are able to add or extract value from their lives. Page 61 of the Report contains a case study on a modern South African school, and it clearly illustrates the key role that schools have to play in improving the quality of lives of South Africa's children and the manners in which it assists in making social services available to those who need it most. The children interviewed said this themselves.

Ms Motala stated that she, together with Ms Proudlock, would now engage in a discussion of the actual ACESS presentation contained in the PowerPoint document. By way of background information she informed Members that ACESS was formed following a workshop hosted by various children's sector organisations during 2001, and its mandate was then to provide inputs to both the Department and the Commission in accordance with the directives issued by the Minister of Social Development (the Minister) that a comprehensive social security system be introduced in South Africa. This workshop resulted in the decision to forge an alliance with the South African government as well to address this issue, because the existing structure and dispensation at that time was not dealing adequately with the matter. Since then the alliance has shown remarkable and consistent growth throughout the country, but not all the provinces are functioning at the desired level.

There is support for the key social security issues as well as the recognition that all involved have to work towards the transformation of the social security system in South Africa. Attention also has to be paid to the work being done in this regard as well as the challenges to- and changes to be made to the current social security delivery system. The objective of today's meeting with the Committee is to hear the input to be made by ACESS, and the Committee then has to decide how it will take the ACESS principles and demands and relate them to the Commission's report, and its overall effect on social services service delivery.

With regard to Slide 1 of the presentation entitled "Child Poverty in South Africa", a substantial body of analysis of the existing social security system has been compiled by organisations such as Statistics South Africa, the Institute for Democracy In South Africa (IDASA) and the Commission.

Slide 2 is entitled "Extent of Poverty" and provides that no less than 10,5 million children in South Africa live in adverse conditions of poverty, which means that these children are living in households in which less than R800 is earned per month. This results in 23% of children, or one in four, being stunted because their ability to access educational opportunities is poor. Their health condition is thus unstable and vulnerable, are thus prone to ill health and do not develop properly. Some provinces are more fortunate in this regard than the rest, but this does not detract from the sad fact that South Africa is currently one of the twelve most lethal countries in the world in which a child could be born, because of the high child mortality rate. This problem is due primarily to the unequal distribution of wealth in South Africa and the correspondingly high unemployment rate. The result is that "wealth is not trickling down" to all spheres of society.

Slide 3 lists the seven ACESS principles necessary for an efficient social security system in South Africa, and are based on the Constitution, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the workshop hosted during 2001.

The current safety net being provided for South African children is discussed in Slide 5, and it states that during 2001 only 1,9 million children were reached via the CSG, but this has to be scaled up to a much faster rate. The problem lies with the poor take up rates, as certain provinces are higher in certain provinces than others because the former are better resourced. The slide also states that for every five children eligible for the CSG in the Eastern Cape and Northern Provinces, only one child actually receives this benefit. This figure can then be compared to the Gauteng and Western Cape Provinces, in which for every two children that apply for the CSG three actually receive the benefit. This indicates that the latter are the better-resourced provinces and their CSG systems are thus operating efficiently. This disparity has to be addressed.

Slide 6, entitled "Social Security Principles", deals with the recommendations regarding the first and fourth principles, and provides that ACESS recommends that a universal non-means test based grant be introduced for children below the age of eighteen. This extension of the Child Support Grant (CSG) should be seen as an important step towards providing a safety net for all South Africans via the Basic Income Grant (BIG). The slide also notes that the Commission shares its view on this matter.

The following slide is entitled "Extending the CSG", and explains that the CSG has to be extended because the current grant dispensation only provides the grant to children till the age of seven years. This remains a problem because this age limit does not alleviate the poverty in which the families that receive these grants are living in, and this thus serves as a compelling reason for extending the CSG to children under the age of eighteen years.

Slide 9 deals with the second and sixth principles, and the following slide provides that the Commission shares the view of ACESS in calling for not only the cash grants, but also a package of social security benefits to be granted to children.

Ms Proudlock stated that the children themselves related their concerns with the provision of basic services, such as water and electricity, as evidenced on pages 69 to 76 of the Report. ACESS thus recommends that a package of basic rights be provided in this regard, and is pleased to note that this accords with the finding by the Commission as well. It is also recommended that free primary or basic education should be provided to those children whose families cannot afford the school fees, or who cannot afford the travelling costs.

Furthermore, those mothers living in poverty should not be forced to trade off between various basic needs of their families, and especially their children. It seems that, in the smaller families, the young children suffer the greatest hardship because the older children receive the greater share of the food and basic services. The same occurs with children living with their extended families, as here the biological children will receive the major share and the other children are left to suffer.

Problems were also expressed with the inability to pay school fees. The South African Schools Act does provide for a school fees exemption system for parents and families who cannot afford school fees, but this is not used in practice. This is due chiefly to the fact not only do the children and their families do know about this exemption system, but they also choose not to rely on such handouts as a matter of pride and dignity. It also appears that the schools themselves would prefer to receive full cash payments to increase their resource pool. Yet despite such hardships, it became evident during the children participation process that the children remained resilient and want to attend school.

ACESS thus recommends that reliance on the exemption system become more regular because it is clearly provided for in the Schools Act, yet it is not used in practice to come to the aid of those for whom it was intended and who need it most. The Minister of Education has in fact personally addressed letters to schools directly, calling on this process to be properly analysed and reviewed and the problems in the process have to be identified. The South African government cannot allow those families who are receiving the BIG or CSG, intended to support the household and child respectively, to be used to pay school fees. This would amount to one government department, the Department, paying another, the Department of Education.

Ms Motala stated that Slide 14 provides that both ACESS and the Commission agree that social security has to provide for the basic needs of children with special needs arising from a chronic health condition or disability.

Ms Proudlock informed Members that the present reality in South Africa is that only 40 000 children have been granted the Care Dependency Grant (CDG) since January 2002. A further problem is the fact that only those children with severe disabilities that have to stay at home and need full-time care are eligible for the CDG, but it does not include the children falling within the following three categories: firstly children who do have severe disabilities, and their parents or caregivers take the initiative and wish to integrate them into society by place them in "ordinary" schools; secondly, children with moderate disabilities, such as those who are deaf or blind and thirdly, children with chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. The needs of those children in the second category cannot be met by a "usual" or mainstream school. This is clearly evidenced by the interview with one of the children living with a hearing disability, who is attending a mainstream school but is now only on Grade 1, because none of the teachers are able to communicate with him or teach him in sign language. Similarly, the special needs of those children falling within the third category cannot be met if they do not receive the proper treatment.

The statistics available in January 2002 indicated that the Foster Child Grant (FCG) has been granted to 67 000 applicants countrywide. An additional problem is created by the fact that the current court procedure regarding foster parenting is lengthy, and here the provisions of the new Child Care Act would be important in reformulating and expediting this procedure. The FCG is supposed to be granted for a temporary period of two years, but the reality of the matter is that this becomes a permanent arrangement because the family does not want to give up the FCG after the two year period as it is an important source of income. It is for this reason that both the Commission and the South African Law Commission (SALC) Discussion Paper on the Child Care Act recommend the introduction of an adoption procedure here in this regard.

An additional problem is created with regard to AIDS orphans as they are then cared for by their kinship and are thus not strictly "removed" from actual homes, with the result that they are thus not eligible for the FCG. The SALC Discussion Paper on the Child Care Act recognises the need for the provision of care for these orphans but it does not provide actual proposals or solutions to this matter, such as whether the FCG of R450 per month or the CSG of R130 per month should be relied on, and whether these amounts should be reconsidered. ACESS recommends that the CSG immediately be made available to all children under the age of eighteen, and that the means test currently employed here be removed.

Ms Motala stated that the last two ACESS principles deal with social service delivery and children's participation, and informed Members that 140 000 applicants from the Northern Province have been unable to access their grants since November 2001. It was also reported that a similar pattern was expected for April 2002 because, the MEC stated, the budget was labouring as a result of the Apartheid legacy and there would thus be insufficient funds for these grants. Yet this approach cannot be accepted, because the Department has committed itself to deliver the grants and it thus has to honour this promise. The Department has to address this problem, especially its effect on the rest of the delivery system and the unnecessary complications caused by the problems with birth certificates. The Department of Home Affairs has been contacted in this regard to ensure this process is improved and expedited. A possible solution could be found in requiring births to be registered immediately, rather than wait for six months to elapse before applying for registration.

As indicated in Slide 17, the Director-General (DG) of the Department of Home Affairs has stated that the primary problem in accessing these grants is documentation, and he has refused to accept any alternative or temporary proof of identification by applicants who wish to access their grants. The reason offered is that this would expose the Department of Home Affairs to a greater risk of fraud. ACESS accepts that valid identification documentation as well as a balance in this regard is needed, but the grant system cannot be designed in this way to prevent the very people for whom it was introduced from accessing their grants. This system has to be reformulated.

The following slide deals with the issue of children's participation, and ACESS has tried to facilitate this process via the participation workshops throughout the country. The input received from the children themselves has highlighted the problems being experienced in this regard, and it has also clearly illustrated that the children are not demanding a shopping list but rather request just the basic needs. The statement by the Minister that six year olds would use the grant to buy "candy" and that they do not know the true value of money is not only unfounded but also wrong, as they have clearly indicated that they are not wasteful with the little money they receive.

Slide 18 is entitled "Recommendations" and states that ACESS thus recommends that the children of South Africa have the constitutionally guaranteed right to access the needs and benefits to which they are entitled, and the actual delivery of these needs has to be properly monitored. In this regard an improved and more efficient statistical system is needed to allow for the proper monitoring of service delivery by the Department.

Ms Motala concluded the presentation by thanking the Committee for the opportunity, on behalf of ACESS.

The Chair stated that the contributions made would be used by Members to inform them in preparation for the debate in the House on Friday 21 June 2002. ACESS should also, however, officially hand over its Report to the Minister himself, as he would then formally be obliged to consider its contents and respond it, and it would then be properly channelled. The floor was opened to questions from Members.

Discussion
Ms S Ntlabati (ANC) [Eastern Cape] thanked the delegation for the thorough and insightful presentation, and assured them that this Committee would be doing its part in ensuring the children receive proper social security. With regard to the suggestion made by the Chair, it would probably be more appropriate to hand the report to the Minister in the Office of the Presidency, as he deals specifically with this issue.

Ms Proudlock replied that ACESS will follow this advice and would also contact the SALC and forward the Report to the relevant governmental departments.

Furthermore, Ms Ntlabati informed the delegation that the Constitution has not yet been amended to reflect that the Northern Province has been changed to the Limpopo Province, as these two names were used interchangeably in the presentation.

Thirdly, she agreed with the recommendation by ACESS that the CSG be extended to all children below the age of eighteen, and that the means test be scrapped. Yet it has to be questioned whether this approach would not open the floodgates with regard to the number of applications received for the CSG.

Ms Proudlock replied that the Commission supports the extension, and it has considered various options in this regard that have been proposed by various forums. Yet ACESS recommends that the extension be approved and that the means test be removed.

Fourthly, Ms Ntlabati inquired whether ACESS has conducted any research on the costing of this new approach to the CSG and, if it has, it should make this information available to this Committee as it would assist the argument.

Ms Motala responded that it has been contended that a tax would be imposed on the CSG grant to "claw back" resources. A costing analysis was done by the Commission but the actual details of the study are not available. This information is important as it would strengthen the argument for implementing a system that provides the grant to all those who need it. The current figure stands at R40-42 billion, but research still has to be conducted into the effects should everyone take up the grant, and also the implications on those who do not, as the South African Revenue Service (SARS) would effectively be taking funds away from those who do not qualify for the grant.

The applicant falling just above the poverty line would be taxed on the amount received, whereas the "super rich" would be taxed on three times the amount actually received. This regime has given rise to the assertion that the funds used to pay the CSG would then, in any event, be "clawed back" in this manner. The amount to be clawed back lies in the region of R22-24b.

The cost of conducting the means test itself, as is being done under the current dispensation, is costly, and it would be easier and less expensive to provide the BIG to all children under eighteen, and then reclaim the funds via the tax system.

Fifthly, the needs of children with illnesses also have to be ensured.

Mr D Kgware (ANC) [Northern Cape] stated that the Committee has witnessed the problems experienced with poverty in the Northern Cape Province and it is "enemy number one" as suggested in the presentation. The delegation is requested to explain whether- or the extent to which- self reliance of struggling communities is being addressed via local food production initiatives.

Ms Proudlock replied that the Commission has dealt comprehensively with this matter and the steps to be followed, and includes considerations of land and credit facilities. Also, the Department of Agriculture does have such programmes.

Ms Motala added that every province has a Poverty Alleviation Programme, but the Department of Agriculture has to be integrated here to add sustainability to these programmes so that they do not suddenly disappear once its funding ceases. Programmes have also been implemented that are aimed at identifying ways to best utilise resources to produce food locally, as the food garden projects only provide limited relief. A transformation in the agricultural industry is needed in South Africa to effect any change in this regard.

Secondly, Mr Kgware inquired whether ACESS interacts with the social worker organisations, and whether it liaises with them regarding the monitoring of social service delivery to children.

Ms Proudlock responded that ACESS does interact with social worker organisations such as South African Child and Family Welfare (SACFW) and the South African Black Social Workers Association (SABSWA), and they have also assisted in compiling the Report.

Ms E Gouws (DP) [Eastern Cape] congratulated the delegation on the presentation and encouraged ACESS to continue the valuable work it has been doing, and assured them that this Committee would support the initiative to the best of its ability. The delegation is requested to explain whether it has identified any households in its study in which the children are the heads of the household and, if so, how these children are coping and accessing grants.

Ms Proudlock replied that the current CSG dispensation does not provide any relief for children in this situation, because children are not currently able to apply for CSG themselves as the identity documents of the parents alone are needed to make such application. The result is that such children cannot obtain any relief for themselves or their siblings. This concern has been acknowledged by various Community Based Organisations (CBO's) and NGO's, and it has been proposed that these children be assisted via subsidies.

ACESS recommends that the social relief of distress grant as provided for by the Social Assistance Act be used to provide these children with relief. This would be granted to the NGO's for on a temporary basis for a period of three to six months, and this procedure is less complicated and lengthy as the CSG and provides the same sort of relief as the CSG. Yet in practice this grant is not used very often. It is thus hoped that this grant would allow the NGO's in the children's social security sector to provide temporary relief to children who need it most, while the NGO applies for the CSG.

Dr Shereen Usden, a member of the Project Reference Team from Soul City, added that the Black Sash has devised a campaign to enroll as many children in the current grant system as possible so that the problems with the current registration process can be identified and resolved, such as the problem with birth certificates and identity documents. This initiative is expected to commence in January 2003, but till then it will regularly consult with the Departments of Home Affairs and Social Development to put a system in place that addresses these demands.

During January 2002 Soul City and the Black Sash media component conducted a campaign to increase awareness on this issue, which accords with President Mbeki's call for a collaborative effort between civil society and government in this regard.

Secondly, Ms Gouws was pleased by the "wonderful support" offered to children by their extended family, especially in the rural areas and in the poorer communities. If this were not the case South Africa would become a country of orphanages.

The Chair drew the Committee's attention to recent Special Assignment television programme which discussed the problems currently being experienced by the Department of Home Affairs with the birth registrations and the accessing of grants, which also stressed the link between these two aspects. The Departments of Home Affairs, Health and Social Development were then consulted as to their roles in addressing this matter, to which the Department of Home Affairs responded by re-activating its mobile birth registration units. A further cause of concern is the fact that this Committee and other important role players would not have been made aware of this problem had it not been for that television programme.

Ms Motala replied that that television programme was aired as a result of an ACESS initiative. Furthermore, children's rights have to be prioritised.

Ms Proudlock added that the Department and the Department of Home Affairs have to work together to identify a long-term solution to this problem. A short-term solution is needed as well, and this could perhaps be effected by accepting a temporary proof of identification of children or parents applying for grants for a period of six months. This concession should only be made on condition that the final identity document will be procured, and the grant could be withdrawn should this not come to pass. Yet the Department had stated that it would not be able to do this because its computer registry system only registers numbers, but it stated that it could also generate fake numbers for a temporary period, on condition that the formal identity document is acquired.

With regard to the mobile units reactivated by the Department of Home Affairs, the budgetary allocation for these units has decreased, and that department's social services commitment will only be addressed in the 2005 financial year.

Secondly, the Chair stated that the issue of raising the limit for children eligible for the CSG to eighteen years was discussed during 2001, and the Minister made a commitment to consider this issue. Yet this Committee has not yet received any feedback on this matter, and this will be drawn to his attention in the debate.

Ms Proudlock responded by stating that once the age limit is extended, the next step would be to extend the BIG to all members of the family. This would resolve the current problem with the CSG funds being used to finance the entire family, with the result that the child actually entitled to that grant does not benefit from it. The Commission suggests that BIG be phased in from 2006, and the revised CSG by 2006.

Thirdly, the Chair stated that the introduction of the feeding scheme has helped a great deal in a variety of ways in addressing some of the problems, but the delegation is requested to explain whether such schemes are operational during the school holidays as well.

Ms Kgeti replied that it is largely the teachers at the schools that assist the children with their problems, but this help is not sustainable and the children are thus at a loss as to who to turn to for help. A strong referral system is needed here, because this is such a big problem that the teachers are overworked and the Department has to offer assistance here. Parents have indicated their willingness to become involved in these school initiatives including the agricultural issues, which are especially popular at the poorer schools. The feeding schemes are complemented by the food garden projects.

Fourthly, the Chair stated that the Departments of Education, Social Development and Health have to be involved in addressing poverty and its effects on South African children. This important matter has to be evaluated, especially in the rural areas.

The Chair concluded by thanked ACESS for its valuable input. There were no further questions or comments and the meeting was adjourned.

Appendix 1
Child Participation Project: "Children Speak out on Poverty"

Executive Summary of Report

Children and poverty in South Africa
Poverty and inequality have a devastating impact on the lives of children in South Africa. Infant mortality rates are rising, the prevalence of preventable illnesses and malnutrition in children is increasing and structural unemployment has become chronic. It is estimated that 22 million people (over 50% of the population) live in poverty, that is, on an income of less than R144 per month. Children are recognised to be among the most poor and vulnerable in society in South Africa. This is confirmed by research that shows that three in every four children, approximately 70%, experience poverty, with 25% stunted due to malnutrition. These children face shortages of food, clothing, shelter and access to basic services.

Among these children in poverty are particularly vulnerable groups of children, including those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS; children with disabilities and chronic illnesses; those living on the streets, in urban informal settlements and in rural areas; and children of farm workers, refugees and illegal immigrants. These children face discrimination, isolation and extreme hardship.

The response to poverty requires a multi-sectoral, multi-faceted approach, which relies heavily on social policies and incorporates poverty alleviating programmes, integrated development plans, capacity-development of communities, service delivery and, not least, social security or 'safety nets'.

Social policy should aim to create a fair and equitable society, correcting for poverty amidst plenty, and where all get a fair share of the benefits of social co-operation. Redistribution of income through social assistance programmes is an effective poverty alleviating strategy and, in the case of children in dire need, essential to meet their basic needs.

Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System
It is widely acknowledged that our social security system is non-comprehensive, fragmented and inefficient. Many children fall through the gaps of existing provision.

In response to the shortcomings in the system, Cabinet appointed the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System for South Africa in 2000. The Committee of Inquiry was tasked with investigating and making recommendations for a new, improved and comprehensive social security system for South Africa.

Building a broad based Alliance - Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS)
In response to this opportunity to contribute to the transformation of social security systems in South Africa and in order to coordinate civil society's response, a national consultative workshop was held in March 2001 with representatives from the children's and disability sectors, to discuss social security for children in South Africa. A civil society initiative, the workshop brought together grassroots NGOs, CBOs, research units, academics, policy makers, government and parliamentarians. The workshop was co-hosted by the Child Health Policy Institute
(re-named the Children's Institute in June 2001), The Children's Rights Centre and the Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication with the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System for South Africa.

Participants at the workshop established and mandated the Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS) to present the workshop's recommendations to the Committee of Inquiry and the Department of Social Development and to conduct the advocacy necessary for their adoption and implementation by government. The workshop also strongly recommended the inclusion of meaningful child participation in the decision making process. The process reported on here is the result of ACESS' commitment to ensuring meaningful child participation.

Children: Our Partners in Policy Making
Participation means children and young people thinking for themselves, expressing their views effectively and interacting in positive ways with others. Participation of children is important not only for romantic notions of what feels good and just but also because "if the specific needs of girls and boys are not fully understood or addressed, then actions to alleviate their poverty could adversely affect their quality of life".

Participation should not be simply an add on or optional extra but must be integral to the process of developing plans. It is imperative that any policy development process ensures that the voices of children are heard and taken into account. It was with this imperative in mind that ACESS sought to rectify the fact that deliberations about a new social security system had not sought to involve children.

The ACESS Child Participation Process
The Taylor Committee of Inquiry, recognizing the fragmented nature of social security in South Africa, formed a number of sub-committees to examine the short-comings of the system vis a vis health, retirement, unemployment and poverty. However, the Committee did not include a sub-committee to examine the impact of the shortcomings on children. For this reason, ACESS committed itself to facilitating such a process.

To this end, ACESS conducted a series of workshops in all nine provinces, involving children with varied backgrounds and circumstances. The aim of the workshops was to engage children on issues of poverty, survival and social security. The provincial workshops were followed by a national workshop involving representatives from each provincial workshop meeting with decision-makers from government.

Workshops in every province
A series of 9 two-day participatory workshops with children were held in each province. In choosing the children who took part in the provincial workshops every effort was made to be as representative as possible. The groups were thus composed of children of varied races, ages and geographic location (rural/urban/farms). The groups consisted of children from the following circumstances:
- children living in poverty;
- children with disabilities and chronic health conditions;
- children living on streets;
- children in institutions and foster care
- children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Children's Meeting with Decision Makers
At the provincial workshops children elected two representatives who would attend a meeting with decision-makers in Cape Town later on in the process. ACESS planned this meeting to allow children and decision makers an opportunity to learn from each other. In preparation for the meeting with decsion-makers the child representatives met a few days prior to the meeting to prepare their presentations and plan how they would engage the decision makers.

Invitations were sent out to all major parliamentary, ministerial and departmental leaders and approximately 40 participants attended, including some representatives from civil society. At the meeting the children gave a presentation and spent some time putting key questions to the decision-makers.

In their interaction with the adult decision makers, the children demonstrated a high level of understanding of social security issues and confirmed the value of children's participation in policy making processes.

Officials made a number of significant promises to the children, for example, the Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, promised to investigate the issue of children denied access to school because they did not have school fees. He indicated that this was an issue that should also be taken up with provincial education departments. An official in the Department of Social Development, Ms Pat Naicker promised to include children in further debate about social security provisions. An official in the Department of Education, Ms Marie Schoeman
responsible for inclusive education, promised to investigate further issues of disability and access to education for children living in poverty.

Summary of findings
The following is a summary of findings from the workshops with children.

Social security is non-comprehensive
It is clear from the descriptions given by children of their lives that the current social security system is fragmented and non-comprehensive, with many groups of children falling through the gaps.

The workshops with children show that poor children between the ages of 7 and 18 are often hungry and do not have the means to access schooling. Orphaned children appear to be particularly vulnerable.

The workshops with children who had been, or were living ,on the street were particularly sobering. Their experiences mirrored many of the themes that emerged from children living with families in homes stricken by poverty. Some children living in poverty seem to be on the same risk trajectory as those on the street.

Children with disabilities are not catered for by the Care Dependency Grant, which provides coverage for children with 'severe disabilities' that require permanent home-based care. Many of the children with disabilities who participated in our workshops need specialised education that they were not able to access due to lack of funds. Many were attending mainstream schools which had no capacity to cater for their special needs.

Extended families who are informally fostering orphaned children are not eligible for Foster Care Grants.. Children who do receive grants describe how these are inadequate for their needs, particularly as whole families often rely on the grant for survival.

Social security is limited
Social security in South Africa is generally limited to direct cash transfers. The workshops give lots of evidence that children would welcome and benefit from a range of other possibilities such as uniform subsidies, free stationery and books at school and free services such as water and electricity to poor households, particularly child-headed households.

It is clear that the school fee exemption policy that allows for poor children to be exempt from paying fees (South African Schools Act) is not being applied in most schools. This policy should be enforced by the Department of Education or changed to allow for all children to access free education.

The most common problem experienced by all the children who participated related to schooling, such as an inability to pay school fees, lack of uniforms, textbooks and stationery and descrimination and abuse from teachers. Some children spoke about being denied access to school, reports being withheld and being beaten because they had not paid fees.

The teachers shout at you. They say that we cannot sit on the seats at school because we don't pay school fees. People who sit on the chairs are those who pay school fees. The teachers like to swear at us. They don't have a good way of approaching children. They keep on teasing us about the school fees. It is not nice because we also like to pay we just don't have money. (Girl, 11, NP)

School uniforms were also identified as a major problem by all the children. Children are being denied access to schooling because they cannot afford to buy uniforms, and because they lack stationery and books.

Hunger was the second most common problem faced by all the children, and many children described the daily battle with hunger.

For my side the biggest problem is food. Sometimes we end up not getting any food at home and don't know what to do. We feel sad because my grandmother doesn't have money to buy food. The other problem is to have school shoes. (Boy, 15, NP)

Children living on the streets described how they ended up on the streets. Children living with disabilities described their battle to access education and then their need for free and accessible transport to school. Children who accessed foster care grants talked about how whole families lived on these grants and how families were caught in a cycle of debt in order to put food on the table.

Children's resilience
Despite living in dire conditions many children show resilience, strength and perseverance. What children know and what they are capable of is never generally taken into account by the adults and policy makers around them. It is important to recognise children's own coping strategies and the ways in which they deal with difficulties and how resourceful they really are. Programmes aimed at providing protection and support to children should take cognisance of their existing support and coping structures

Knowledge about existing grants
Children's knowledge of various social security grants are limited to personal experience and proximity to people who receive grants such as grandparents or siblings with disabilities. Clearly there is a greater need for educating children about existing grants and other social services that could make a difference in their lives, and to ensuring that larger publication education programmes on social security target children as well. The children we worked with had arrived at their knowledge through experience, trial and error.

Administrative problems
The children who participated in these workshops gave a comprehensive account of the administrative problems that exist within the social security system. These included the difficulty they and their caregivers face in getting identity documents, birth certificates and death certificates. One of the major problems was the distance people had to travel to get these documents. They also mention inefficiency and continued delays in accessing documents needed to apply for grants. Security at pay-points was another issue raised by the children.

Children's ideas about improving social security
Children were open to the idea of indirect social security in the form of feeding schemes (in secondary and primary schools), free uniforms, free services and transport to school.

They also thought that the extension of the Child Support Grant to all children under 18 would improve their situation.

Most thought that a Basic Income Grant of R100 for everyone would make a significant difference in their lives and they demonstrated startling levels of maturity in the spending priorities they identified in relation to a Basic Income Grant, which included basics such as food, soap and clothes.

The children expressed the desire to have direct access to adults responsible for administering grants so that they could report abuses by caregivers. They suggested the establishment of a toll-free line, such as Childline, to enable children to report abuse and get information.

They recommended that they be asked to identify a trustworthy adult to look after the grant until they were old enough to receive it themselves. Most children thought that children over the age of 13 years are sufficiently mature to enable them to receive grants for themselves. They argued that children who were hungry could be trusted to buy food.

The children felt that it was important for children living on the streets to be able to access social security but they were not sure how this could be done.

Children with disabilities expressed the desire to access the Disability Grant before they turned 18 years old. They argued that they needed the grant to survive, and that it would enable them to get skills and become independent and that they would benefit more if they received it before they turn 18.

Conclusion
This process has confirmed the value of engaging children as partners in decision making, and has also highlighted the insights that arise from viewing the short-comings of the social security system from a child's perspective.

Children's participation in policy development and reform should be integral, and not something that is done as an after-thought. It is imperative that any policy development process ensures that the voices of children are heard and taken into account. It was with this imperative in mind that ACESS sought to rectify the fact that deliberations about new social security legislation had not sought to involve children. The children's participation process was in fulfilment of a commitment made by ACESS in March 2001 to ensure that children's voices will be heard in the policy making process. The state is reminded of its obligation to ensure that children's participation is an integral aspect of the unfolding social security policy-making process. The state needs to urgently establish mechanisms to facilitate this process. ACESS offers its active support to the state in making this a reality.

Now that the Committee of Inquiry has handed its recommendations over to Cabinet, and the report has been released for public comment there will be much debate and deliberations about the nature of a comprehensive social security system. In this policy making process politicians, and government officials have thus far given low political priority to children's participation - despite the fact that children constitute approximately half of South Africa's citizens. Children have a right to participate in decisions that will shape their future.

The issues raised by the children need to be addressed with urgency, especially if we take cognisance of the fact that the HIV/AIDS pandemic will increase tenfold the number of vulnerable children in our society. There is a need for urgent and prompt attention now. The state on other occasions - when faced with strong lobbies from particular constituencies has demonstrated its ability to be responsive - the issues identified need action from relevant quarters.

Appendix 2
Press Release on hand-over of critical report
LET CHILDREN SPEAK!
CHILDREN'S VOICES ON SOCIAL SECURITY


"We don't always have the money for food. I think it is just because there is no one working at home."
Girl 10, KwaZulu Natal.

"The problem is waking up with nothing to eat. You go to school hungry"
Boy 16, Western Cape.

The release of a critical report which records the voices of children themselves on the issues of social security, is to be released on the 18 June when it is handed over the National Council of Provinces. The initiators and compilers of the report will then the Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS), will present the findings of the report to the National Council of Provinces' select committee on social services.

Children, says the report, are recognized to be among the poor and vulnerable in society in South Africa. Research indicates that three in every four children experience poverty and 25% are stunted as a result of malnutrition.

The report is the culmination of a process initiated by ACESS in 2001.The process was concluded with a meeting held with parliamentarians, government and other decision-makers in February 2002. At this meeting children themselves engaged face to face with our country's parliamentarians including the Minister of Education Kadar Asmal.

The contents of the report are derived from 18 participatory workshops held with children - two in each province - and the concluding meeting in Cape Town. Each of the groups was selected to reflect the different situations of children in South Africa: children living in poverty; children with disabilities and chronic health conditions; children living on the streets; children from compromised home environments (e.g. in foster care); children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Given the abject poverty that vast sections of South African society live in, the establishment of the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa, was an important and necessary step towards a new system of social security. Of concern to ACESS was the Committee's failure to consult with children themselves. ACESS therefore committed itself to ensuring that children were given a platform to articulate their situations and what they perceived could contribute to improving their quality of life.

Every care has been taken to ensure the report is an authentic recording of the process and the children's voices. A small reference group of 10 children (aged 8 - 16 years, half boys and half girls) was formed to assist in the research planning, data analysis and the drafting of the final report.

At the meeting with decision-makers in February 2002, children were given an undertaking by those present that their input would be considered in the final deliberations regarding a comprehensive system of social security. This assurance was given despite the fact that the committee had already completed its report. It is therefore critical that decision-makers acknowledge the report and ensure that final decisions reflect that the needs of the children as articulated in the process of consultation.

The voices of children living in poverty confirm and illustrate why ACESS supports the key recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for All South Africans that a BASIC INCOME GRANT for all South Africans urgently needed and that children's needs must be prioritized.

Contacts:
Shirin Motala, ACESS Co-ordinator, Cell 083 786 8844. and Tel 031 3076075/6
Gail Smith, Children's Voices Co-ordinator 082 561 3878

Issued 13 June 2002

Appendix 3
Briefing to Select Committee on Social Services on 18th June 2002

ACESS Child Participation Process
'Children Speak out on Poverty!'

Agenda
Introduction to Child Participation Process
Gail Smith, Child Participation Process Co-ordinator

Flash Presentation on Child Participation Process

Reflections on Participatory Workshops
Kgethi Matsai, Researcher & Workshop Facilitator

Contextual Input on Children's Voices
Shirin Motala and Paula Proudlock, ACESS Task Team

Closing Statements
Shirin Motala, ACESS Task Team

Questions & Answers
Chairperson of Select Committee on Social Services, Loretta Jacobus

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