Ilifa Labantwana’s recently published South African Early Childhood Review provides a welcome statistical overview of how well the government is meeting its duties to young children and their caregivers. The review notes that there is a legal and urgent duty on government to provide an essential package of ECD services. The draft National ECD Policy seeks to give effect to this duty by placing responsibility on a range of government departments to ensure the provision of services, including water and sanitation, birth registration, stimulation for early learning, parenting support and the provision of quality health and nutritional care and support.
The Review surfaces large gaps which must be addressed as a matter of urgency if the current generation of newborns and young children are to develop to their full potential:
- Nearly 2 million children under the age of 6 years (31%) do not have access to adequate water
- More than 1 and half million (26%) use poor sanitation
- 3 million do not live close to a health facility
- 10 percent do not get immunised against entirely preventable diseases
- 22 percent of children under 5 are stunted – largely due to food insecurity and poor parental dietary knowledge and practices
- 1 million children between the ages of 3 and 5 do not participate in early learning programmes
Perhaps more alarming is the near-total absence of data on how many parents and children are accessing key services such as mental health screening, developmental screening, access to community learning resources such as book and toy libraries, child protection services, and the quality of health care. The lack of data points to very poorly developed systems and programmes for delivery of these essential services.
The remediation of these gaps must be a priority for the responsible departments. This issue of the Policy Post looks at a number of key departmental budget vote speeches – a valuable short-cut to identifying departmental priorities – with a view to assessing if ECD is afforded appropriate priority status. As is discussed below, the Department of Social Development (DSD) and to some extent the Departments of Home Affairs (DHA), Basic Education (DBE) and Health (DOH) prioritise interventions to address crucial gaps. However, many other responsible departments remain silent, and presumably to some extent, ignorant of their responsibilities and the need to prioritise these in the coming Medium Term Expenditure Framework.
The DSD’s Budget Vote Speech
The Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, presented the DSD’s speech on 10 May 2016 in support of its R 148 billion budget. She placed ECD at the forefront of the department’s priorities. She observed that the DSD has allocated an R 810 million conditional grant to the nine provinces over the MTEF, and this shows that the DSD “remains true to [its] commitment [to] ECD as a public good.” She noted further that “ECD is the cornerstone of any Human Resource Development Strategy of a country.” In addition to the R 810 million investment to increase access to effective early learning and care services, the DSD will be prioritising a key food security and nutrition intervention which may impact positively on the health of young children (although the linage with ECD was not made by the Minister).
The Household Food and Nutrition Security Strategy is “at the apex” of the department’s priorities and will be implemented through Community Nutrition Development Centres run by corporates and NPOs. 166 have been opened, and this will increase to 200 in the current financial year. Further nutritional support measures in place are the Social Relief of Distress Benefit and the DSD will be hosting a conference in the second half of the year to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with issues of food security and malnutrition.
The DBE’s Budget Vote Speech
Minister Angie Motshekga opened the DBE’s speech on 10 May 2016 with the affirmation that “the right to basic education is limitless and unqualified”. She committed to use the DBE’s R 22.270 billion budget to advance “improved quality basic education [which] is the apex priority of government ….[and ] improved learner achievements and school performance.” ECD is recognised as deserving of priority attention within this framework. The Minister undertook to work with sister departments to formalise Grade R and ensure the provisioning of appropriately qualified and experienced ECD practitioners, as well as age-appropriate learning and teaching support materials.
The DOH’s Budget Vote Speech
In his speech, the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, emphasised the need to scale up quality systems and programmes to reduce the quadruple burden of disease facing South Africa, which includes:
- HIV and TB
- Maternal and child mortality
- Non-communicable diseases
- Injury, violence and trauma
Specific departmental priorities to which the department’s R 38.563 budget will be put include the National Health Insurance plan. At a programmatic level, the one intervention that has been prioritized and will make an indirect impact on the health and well-being of young children is a 3-year HIV and AIDS-prevention campaign targeted at young girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24 and the “men who are infecting and impregnating them”. The campaign will be rolled out at a cost of R 3 billion and will, amongst other objectives, strive to decrease teen pregnancy, sexual and GBV, decrease HIV infections in young women, increase their economic opportunities and keep girls in school until matric.
Other than these, there was no mention of key ECD priorities, including measures to strengthen developmental screening of children or mental health screening. However, the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla made a speech too, in which he observed the gap in mental health services and committed to remedying budget deficits in the coming MTF.
The DHA’s Budget Vote Speech
The Minister of Home Affairs made a very encouraging speech in which he noted that attaining the department’s responsibility of universal civil registration requires, on the one hand, universal early registration of births within 30 days, and on the other, the provision of identity documents to all adults. There has been good progress in early registrations which increased from 39 percent in 2010/11 to 67 percent in 2015/16. He committed to increase this to 100 percent through the strengthened implementation of programmes such as birth registration in health facilities and policy innovations which will be driven through a Green and White paper process during the current financial year.
The Departments of Water and Sanitation (DWS); Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF); and Arts and Culture’s (DAC) Budget Vote Speeches
These three departments have a critical role to play in meeting the country’s ECD responsibilities. The DWS has prioritised plans to increase access to water and sanitation which it recognizes as a “cross-cutting enabler for the development of South Africa”. These include infrastructure development plans as well as plans to strengthen local government’s delivery capacity. The department does not however make any mention of plans for ensuring that young children access these essential services.
The DAFF is a leading role player in ensuring food security and has prioritised agricultural support as the lever to achieve this. As in the case of the DWS, it does not indicate how its priority initiatives will be designed or prioritised to address child malnutrition.
The DAC is responsible for the provisioning of toy and book libraries – services that are in very short supply. The absence of these services is a major impediment to the availability of ECD programmes for marginalized children. The DAC’s speech focuses on issues of arts and culture as well as social inclusion, but is silent on its ECD responsibilities.
The Policy Post is written by Patricia Martin, the director of Advocacy Aid, a consultancy that provides advocacy support to the development sector. Patricia has worked as a child rights advocate and policy analyst for more than a decade and has a special interest in ECD policy and programme development and monitoring.