Children of South Africa

Children of South Africa

Realizing Children’s Rights in South Africa


Because of its strong cultural diversity, South Africa is commonly called “a world within a country”. With the contrast between sophisticated urban areas and extremely poor rural areas, it is confronted with many challenges, notably regarding Children’s Rights.



Realization of Children’s Rights Index : 7,07 / 10
Red level : Difficult situation

Population: 48,6 million
Pop. ages 0-14: 28,4 %

Life expectancy: 56,9 years
Under-5 mortality rate:  34 ‰


Main problems faced by children in South Africa:


4% of South African children (the majority of them from the black community) live in destitution. The Limpopo Province is the area most affected by poverty. Children in this area face great risks living below the poverty line.

In many cases, poverty in South Africa is due to the fact that the country has a high unemployment rate, in the Limpopo and Western Cape regions in particular because of this difficult socio-economic situation, some South African families (particularly single mothers and those without a fixed income) face a lack of food and so go hungry.


The infant mortality rate, mainly resulting from the AIDS virus, has remained unchanged since 1990. However, from now until 2015, the South African government hopes to lower the mortality rate by a third for children less than 5 years old. To accomplish this, an action plan has been implemented aiming to improve healthcare.

A large majority of children less than 5 are deficient in vitamin A and iron; these deficiencies can cause considerable growth problems.Moreover, malnourishment plays an important role in the health of young South Africans, the country must cope with malnutrition and overeating. In fact, one in ten children is underweight because of poor eating.  Conversely, South Africa must fight obesity which prevails among the young. Nutrition programs have been designed for schools, so a large number of children have access to them.

Children and AIDS

In South Africa, AIDS is the primary cause of death.  According to the United Nations, nearly 6 million South Africans are infected with HIV–2.5% of whom are children less than 14 years old.  40% of all deaths among children under the age of 5 is AIDS-related; yet, only 5% of children suffering from AIDS receive antiretroviral treatments.
The numbers are even more alarming in rural regions where access to medical care remains difficult.
Despite the progress the government has made both in preventing AIDS and in taking responsibility for children afflicted with the disease, much more needs to be done.  There are, for example, more than a million children who have become orphans on account of AIDS.



More than 90% of South African children benefit from the right to education. However, some of them don’t always have access. The main reason why these children aren’t enrolled in school is because their families are too poor to pay for their education and the costs that it incurs.

In many cases, handicapped children are not educated. They suffer from discrimination, in particular in the Northern Cape Province where they very rarely go to school.

Furthermore, the quality of education in South Africa remains relatively weak because of the lack of safety prevalent in schools.

Child Abuse

Abuse of children is frequent in South Africa; young girls are neglected and abused even among their own families. Furthermore, children often suffer sexual abuse; the youngest children are the most at risk.

In general, South Africa has the highest level of rape in the world. Girls are physically and sexually assaulted at school by teachers, classmates, or other outside individuals. Fearing sexual assault, they often choose their safety to the detriment of their education.

Furthermore, in some communities, in early marriages, custom requires that the future husband pay a dowry to the family of the young girl he is to marry. This tradition is often a factor in domestic violence towards women because the husband feels like he has purchased his wife and therefore that she belongs to him.

Child Marriage

In some South African regions and in some religious groups, child marriages are still practised; Pressured by their families, girls are obliged to marry.

Child marriages can have significant consequences on health. In fact, young girls with early pregnancies risk premature labour and seeing their child born underweight. Another negative consequence is that when girls marry at a young age, they lose the possibility of an education or a career.

Right to Housing

Unfortunately, a large number of South African children live in shanty towns, in particular in the Western Cape and Gauteng provinces. Some of these young children live in what are called “traditional” houses; this type of housing is very common in the Eastern Cape region. In these dilapidated houses; wood remains the main source of energy.

Large disparities can be observed in terms of housing. Children in rich neighbourhoods benefit from modernity and the latest technologies while children from underprivileged neighbourhoods don’t always have adequate shelter.

Right to Water

In South Africa, 4 out of 10 children don’t have access to running water. Because of this, a large majority of children, mainly those from Eastern Cape, depend on rainwater, streams, and rivers which remain largely unsafe.

As a whole, children from rich communities have adequate sanitation. Unfortunately, this is not the case for children of poor families who don’t have access to sanitation. A large number of South African children, mainly those in shanty towns, don’t have access to toilets where they live.

Detention of Minors

There is still important progress to be made concerning the conditions of detainment of minors who, according to South African law, must be completely separated from adults. Yet in South African prisons, children less than 18 years old share the same building, if not the same cell, with older children. To enforce this law, minors must be moved to appropriate facilities.

Consequently, urgent measures must be taken respecting these laws, above all when it is known that in prisons, Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is not respected; imprisoned children are frequently subjected to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, inflicted by other detainees or personnel.