The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has lauded the South African government for the remarkable progress it has made in making essential services available to vulnerable children and youth, and keeping their parents and caregivers alive.
Speaking during the National Conference on Orphans, Children and Youth made vulnerable by HIV and Aids (OVCY) held recently in Durban, local Unicef Representative Aida Girma, said South Africa’s progressive legal and policy framework creates an enabling environment for the protection of children and young people, and guarantees their rights to social services.
“The South African Children’s Act gives effect to constitutional rights through the provision of a range of services, including early childhood development (ECD) programmes,” Girma said.
Government has identified ECD as a key focus area in its effort to improve the quality of basic education and care for children. More than 836 000 children currently benefit from ECD services in South Africa. By the end of 2012, there were more than 19 500 ECD centres across the country.
Girma also praised government for extending antiretroviral treatment to 1.8 million adults so they can live to see their children grow, as well as providing antiretroviral treatment to 150 000 children who need it – up from 4 200 children in 2004. He identified the child support grants, which now reach more than 11 million poor children, as another success story of the South African Government.
Girma added that ECD centres can be used effectively as “nodes of care and support” not only for vulnerable children, but also for their caregivers and communities. “ECD services can serve as a nucleus for a wide range of community-based HIV and Aids prevention, care and support interventions.”
The conference investigated ways of strengthening families and community based responses as a support system for vulnerable children, and was held as part of the commemoration of the National Child Protection Week (CPW) that began on 27 May.
CPW is commemorated annually to raise the awareness of the rights of children as stated in the Children's Act of 2005. The campaign, which began in 1997, also aims to mobilise all sectors of society and communities in the effort of ensuring care and protection for children.
Part of the conference outcomes highlighted the urgent need for coordinated Action for Children infected and affected by HIV and AIDS and an increased rollout of support grants which would make sure that all eligible children have access to social security.
It was also agreed that an integrated communication strategy would be developed to increase awareness of risks and protective factors facing children, families and communities; and to intensify campaigns to inform and educate communities about child abuse, neglect, exploitation and the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.