South Africa Failing its Children: Medical Research Council Report

Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 12:02

The notion that South Africa (SA) fails in its mandate to protect its children leaves one questioning the role played by organisations offering services of child care and protection and their position on reducing numbers of children being murdered in this country.
 
According to a study done by the Medical Research Council more than 1 018 South African children were murdered in 2009 a figure which is believed to be higher. This damning report on the state of South Africa’s children speaks volumes about organisations and government departments responsible for providing care and protection services to children and their families. Are they doing enough, and where have they gone wrong?

There are quite a number of issues impeding service provision of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with children. While one cannot speak for public sector structures, an outsider view will do no harm in opening debate aimed at strengthening services for children. The critical question is why SA is perceived to be failing its children when progressive legislation like the Children's Act is in place.
 
Two government departments; of Social Development, and of Women Children and People with Disabilities - are charged with the mandate to protect its vulnerable Citizens while civil societies are also championing the cause. Where are they failing? Our discussion should not be based on apportioning blame on one party but should thoroughly analyse the context of service provision and the strategies used to provide care and protection for our children.

There is a need to analyse real and potential contributions of organisations in advancing services towards children. The needs and expectation of society for social services are changing and will continue to change. If social services are to be sustainable they also need to change in response to dynamics of the context they work in. Therefore an understanding of the context of practice is important for both civil society and public sector who both share the responsibility of strengthening child protection services in the country. However, NGOs have been dealt with a hard blow in this current economic situation where their focus has been to survive than to offer services.
 
In an environment where international donors and local funders not only dictate where funds go but also play their hand in the politics of this country, the NGO sector is left at the mercy of donors who want numbers than quality of service. One cannot help but watch in despair when beneficiaries from international donors chase those numbers without focus of quality of service provided.
 
We can pinpoint the lotto debacle which has seen many organisations close its doors. It is will be sad to witness a important organisation like Restorative Justice Centre which works tirelessly in crime prevention close its doors. Many SA NGOs are struggling to get funding. These are organisations that play an integral part in the government's approach to supporting vulnerable people and promoting social well-being.
 
There is a need for simplification of governance and funding arrangements across public sector (and Lotto included) to promote integrated working. Civil society's focus has been diverted from providing services to searching for funds and keeping  organisations afloat at the expense of children who are i desperate need of care and protection. Reducing high mortality of children due to murders requires these organisations to offer preventive services which often require human resources and funding.

The government needs to do more to avoid closure of NGO working with vulnerable children.
Relations between NGO sector and government departments also need further analyses for effective service delivery. There seems to duplication if not uncoordinated service provision in child protection. While government takes the ‘we make the policy and enforce the legislation attitude’, the NGO sector assumes ‘we are the best and underfunded in the business persona’. This has created relative uneasiness and an element of toxic competition covered by mistrust which has not helped the cause of protecting children.
 
The environment of providing child protection services is not and remains uncoordinated with lack ‘negotiated’ leadership. The government has a unique position as elected body with responsibility of policy planning and service delivery. Its role in devising solutions to address social malaise must be fully exploited. However, it does not always make best use of their powers and duties in making connections between the civil society and wider public service. 
 
Preventive services provided by NGO should harness the Police and Justice Departments while Department of Social Development and that of Women, Children and People living with Disabilities takes shared responsibility in coordinating efforts of NGOs and Public sector in protecting our children. Critical service providers work in parallel and defeat the cause of child protection. Truth be told, much responsibility of child care and protection has been allocated to under resourced and underfunded NGOs and community based organisations. Therefore real contributions done by NGOs can be perceived as minimal due to these constraints which limit the potential of reaching and preventing further harm to vulnerable children and families.
 
By Promminence Nkomo