The SANCRC has identified 5 thematic priority areas that are critical to strengthen the child rights governance system and realise a number of interrelated rights that are key to ensuring children’s equal and optimal development, protection and participation.
Realising children’s rights in South Africa, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised, is necessary to fulfil the country’s treaty obligations and for achieving national inclusive, sustainable development goals.
Because it is both a rights and development imperative, the Government of the Republic of South Africa (GRSA) is duty-bound to ensure government-wide action and accountability for realising the rights of every child through the adoption of a national, unifying child-rights governance system.
Given the high levels of entrenched and inter-generational patterns of inequality the system must ensure government-wide prioritization of measures to equalise the rights of chronically marginalised children to, not just survive, but develop to their full potential.
This duty is created by multiple child and human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC); global and regional development plans, including the United Nation’s SDG agenda (2030) and the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063; and national laws and policies, including the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the National Plan of Action for Children (2020), the National Child Care and Protection Policy (2019), the National Integrated Early Childhood Development Policy (2015) and the Children’s Act, No. 38 of 2005.
The national child rights governance system must yield an integrated child care and protection system that secures the provision of all services and support required by families, caregivers and children necessary to ensure that every child, not only survives, but crucially thrives – develops to their full potential – and participates in all decisions affecting them.
There is ample evidence as to what children require to develop to their full potential, and what disadvantaged children require to compensate for historical deficits to equalise their developmental opportunities. Similarly, governing legal instruments are clear on government’s associated responsibilities now captured in multiple global and regional policy / system’s strengething road maps such as the Nurturing Care and INPSIRE Frameworks, Africa’s 2040 Agenda for Children, and the General Comments numbers 5 published by both the African and United Nation’s Committees on children’s rights.
The evidence is clear. Securing the survival, protection, and development of all children to their full potential requires the realisation of the rights of every child to:
These rights are inter-related and inter-dependent. They must be realised through the provision of nurturing care that provides children with an age-appropriate combination of parenting, support and services they need across this whole continuum to secure their survival, protection, development to their full potential and participation. If only some children receive only some of these services, they may well survive, but they will be at high risk of poor development.
The primary responsibility to provide nurturing care falls on parents and families, as supported by early childhood care and education practitioners, health care providers, teachers, social workers and other service providers.
However, the GRSA bears a prior legally enforceable duty to take all measures necessary to enable the provision of nurturing care. Where parents and caregivers are unable to provide nurturing care because of factors such as poverty, lack of knowledge, trauma, mental illness, and toxic stress, the state is obliged to provide an appropriate package of support to overcome the risks and enable nurturing care. To fulfil this duty, it must, and has committed in terms of the National Child Care and Protection Policy to develop a national, integrated child care and protection system that provides a continuum of promotive, preventative and therapeutic care and support that responds to risks to guarantee the provision of nurturing care.
Fulfilling the state’s promises to children is not the responsibility of one or two departments or levels of government: it is a government-wide responsibility that requires high level national leadership and coordination to secure the required levels of unity of purpose, action and accountability.
For this reason, the GRSA is obligated to, and has committed to establish a national child rights governance system that is adequately politically positioned, mandated, resourced and supported to ensure government-wide prioritisation, actioning of and accountability for realising children’s developmentally critical rights.
Despite various measures having been adopted over the past 25 years, the required systems are not in place, and as a result, the majority of vulnerable families and children do not access the support needed. This is evidenced by the low rates of access to the full package of services required to respond to accumulative risks, and the high levels of avoidable and preventable deaths, illness, malnutrition, development delays and disabilities, poor educational outcomes, violence against children and their low levels of participation in decisions that affect them among South Africa’s historically marginalised groups.
The cumulative impact of these multiple, intersecting deprivations has a significant, lasting impact on the development prospects of South Africa’s most marginalised children. Using proxy indicators of poverty and stunting, it is estimated that 38% of children under the age of five years are at risk of poor (and completely avoidable) development outcomes.
Addressing this challenge and changing the developmental trajectory of children and the country requires effective advocacy to strengthen the national child care and protection system. Strengthening the country’s track record in only one or some of the domains and for only some children will not bring about the sustainable change that will enable this generation of children to escape the intergenerational poverty trap.
No one organisation can achieve this outcome acting alone. Therefore, the SANCR has been established and has developed a five-year strategic plan of action built upon the following five thematic priorities necessary to strengthen the national system of child-rights governance.