Social security: The cause worth supporting

Bukelwa Voko
March is Human Rights month and South Africa, as an organic state with its over 48 million citizens, is able to flaunt a Constitution which other countries that are older than “our not so new South Africa”, can only dream of. Using the Constitution as a starting point, Bukelwa Voko makes a case for a comprehensive social security basket to support women and children.

Our constitution was developed from the experience and best pieces of legislation of other countries which were chiselled and refined to form the work of art that we adopted in 1996. This artwork should be guarded and protected at all costs against opportunists who might want to make changes to it through scrupulous means. The first chapter of the constitution states that the Republic is a sovereign democratic state founded on the following values;

a) Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
b) Non-racialism and non-sexism c) Supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law d) Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.

Section 1(a) is the core focus of this article, as for without the reassurance of the protection of our dignity and the promotion of equality, I am of the opinion that we can kiss our hard earned freedom goodbye. Section 36 of Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution focuses on the limitation of rights to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors. These limitations can never be wished away by anyone, not even the highest court in the country, for the Supremacy of the Constitution ensures adherence and consistency with it.

Women first, in their capacity as care-givers, mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers (and the list goes on) carry the burden of having to build families that nurture good and law abiding citizens. But how will they do that if they are subjected to grovelling for the next slice of bread in the absence of jobs? Juxtaposed against this cliché is the fact that many women, in all of these various roles, experience hardship and prejudice in the hands of the men that should be protecting them.

As citizens of our country we have rights that also come with responsibilities. Hence it is imperative that as a nation we take action to protect our most vulnerable constituencies, women and children. Our country has recently experienced a spate of gruesome criminal actions, the victims of which have largely been women and children. I don’t think that there is one person in this country who does not feel violated in one way or another by this spate of violent crimes.In this country safety and security seems to be reserved for politicians and the elite few who can afford it.

Children's rights violations have always been a topic close to my heart for it tests the supremacy of the very constitution which came about through the blood and sweat of many South Africans. Our children have no one to look up to except the adults who are their parents and or care givers. Poor women and children are more exposed and vulnerable to poverty and hunger and the constitution is often their only recourse in fighting violations of their right to dignity, citizenship, health, education, shelter, clean water and sanitation.

If a women is not emancipated, developed, or is deprived of the opportunity to acquire these rights on behalf of the child, it undermines the potential of that child to flourish and grow. There are of course a few men out there who take up the duty of being the advocates of children’s rights and to them I say "keep it up!".

The state has come forth in many ways to realise the socio-economic rights of children through the introduction of social assistance to alleviate poverty alleviation and the exemption to the payment of school fees by the recipients of social grants, but it will take more than this to alleviate child poverty.

South Africa suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment. According to the formal definition of unemployment and statistics provided by the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, currently 25.5% of people in South Africa are unemployed. According to the Children's Institute in 2009 it was estimated that 36% of children live in households where there are no working adults. Formal definitions of unemployment do not reflect the extent of the problem as they do not take into account people who have stopped searching for work or are underemployed and according to the Children's Institute 61% of children in South Africa were estimated to be living below the poverty line in 2009 .

Comprehensive social security has the ability to transform communities by reducing the multi-dimensional effects of chronic, intergenerational poverty and vulnerability and by supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods. A substantive amount of research, both local and international, has shown the positive developmental effects that a comprehensive social security package has on communities, households and on children in particular; with positive outcomes seen most prominently in terms of health, education and nutrition. A recent impact evaluation of South Africa’s Child Support Grant found that early receipt of this grant significantly strengthens a number of these important impacts and provides an investment in people that reduces multiple dimensional indicators of poverty, promotes better gender outcomes, reduces inequality, and promotes social development and pro-poor growth. The study also finds that adolescents receiving the Child Support Grant are more likely to have some positive educational outcomes, are somewhat less likely to experience child labour, and are significantly less likely to engage in behaviours that put their health and well-being at serious risk, which is particularly important in a context of extremely high rates of HIV prevalence.

Providing social security to children increases the chance that they will be better-placed to break out of the cycle of poverty and the social problems often associated with it. There are currently limitations to the reach and scope of the South African system that need to be addressed, especially in terms of translating policy and law into actual implementation at grassroots. According to the UNICEF website, “A world fit for children is one that must be based on making social and economic progress with equity, with special assistance applied to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged”. It is in the interest of those concerned with the development of vibrant communities to focus on the children that live in them and the need to overcome the systemic barriers that prevent children living in poverty from achieving their rights to social assistance, proper education, nutrition, health care, sanitation, and protection from abuse and neglect.

The Child Support Grant (CSG) has, meagre as it is, has lifted many families out of the trap of poverty by giving women the means to seek employment and to improve the living standard of their families; families which are often headed by single women. A stable income also instills dignity in and creates a sense of security for woman living in poverty. Through my work in social security advocacy I have seen the economic activism that take place on grant payment days by women.

Disbursement of the CSG is currently insufficient and the amount of money offered by the CSG (R280) needs to be brought in line with the Foster Care Grant (R770), which is significantly higher in value than the CSG. This is a campaign that needs rigorous lobbying and advocacy with clear and consistent messages aimed at decision makers.

If we as nation can take care of our children by providing their basic rights, the rest will follow.

*Bukelwa Voko is the Communications Project Officer of the Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS)


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