Child poverty in South Africa – more cash is needed to deal with the crisis 

The child support grant is not enough to meet basic needs. More than half of the child grant recipients still live in poverty. 

A recent review by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town shows seven million of these children live in homes with an overall income that is below the food poverty line of R663 per person per month.

Researchers say that while the grant is a good poverty alleviation effort, the amount being given is the biggest flaw. Thirteen million of South Africa’s twenty million children receive the monthly grant of R510.

If this amount isn’t increased, the report warns, child poverty will persist in South Africa. Senior researcher at the Children’s Institute, Katharine Hall, says the immediate focus should be on increasing payouts for children younger than six – as early as next year. 

“Nutrition in those early years is really important for children’s physical and mental development,” says Hall.

South Africa has high rates of malnutrition. Current figures estimate that 27% of children under five are stunted or too short for their age. These children are prone to suffer from severe long term effects of physical and cognitive damage.

Prioritise early childhood 

Hall says that children under six should be prioritised.

“There is a nutrition crisis. It is really worrying, particularly because early childhood is a vital time of development of the brain and healthy bodies.  By not addressing the problem we are undermining the healthy development of the next generation,” she says. 

“The long term effects could be enormous as a whole cohort of children who will not be nourished will have poor educational feedback and there is an urgency to address this now.” 

According to the report more than a third of children in the country are currently living in households where not a single adult is employed or earning an income. 

“What we are seeing is a rising levels of child poverty fueled by various factors such as lockdowns, we also have an increased unemployment rate, high food inflation and at the moment what is happening is that the value of the child support grant buys less food and caregivers are unable to feed their children,” says Hall.

Hall says that they have modelled that increasing the child support grant among children under six would need additional funds amounting to R10bn, which she says is ‘not a lot’. The report acknowledges the current crumbling economic situation in the country and recommends that a phased increase of the child support grant would be an ideal option.

Need for economic growth

Professor Lauren Graham is the director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. She agrees with Hall that the current amount for child support grants is not enough and it needs to be increased immediately.

“The child support grant is an important poverty alleviation mechanism, to ensure that children who are living in poverty have access to resources they need to buy basic needs and we know that the grant is largely spent on food but it is not a mechanism that can get people out of poverty,” says Graham.

She says that though the child support grant is proving to be an effective tool at the moment, the country should be thinking about other ways to help people and children who are living in poverty.

Graham says that there are a whole lot of things that people need because poverty is about a whole range of issues such as deprivation which include education and employment deprivation.

“We do need to be thinking about economic growth so that going forward we do not need to depend much on the child support grant, but in the current context it is crucial that we are ensuring that children’s basic needs are met,” says Graham.

Efforts to get comment from the National Department of Social Development failed. –Health-e News.


  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.

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