Boys sitting on a pavement. Photo: Jan Sandberg/Save the Children 2004-02-25
The two most alarming issues for South Africa's children since the fall of apartheid are intractable poverty and the rise of HIV. South Africa is the country hardest hit by HIV/AIDS worldwide. An estimated 5.5 million people in the country are currently living with HIV.1
Newly constitutionally assured liberties and freedoms have helped in the realization of children’s rights. The new Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act now provides for a minimum age of 16 for both boys and girls – increasing the age limit and eliminating the discriminatory age thresholds.
Male circumcision is in some cases carried out in unsafe medical conditions. The traditional practice of virginity testing threatens the health, affects the self-esteem, and violates the privacy of girls. The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and its harmful effects on the health of girls is also a violation of the Rights of the Child.
According to UNICEF, a significant portion of the country still subsists on less than 1 USD per day, with children representing a substantial part of that population.2 South Africa has among the world’s highest crime rates, with children and women victimized in a significant proportion of the cases involving murder, rape and common assault.3
Health and education
Today South Africa has the highest AIDS burden in the world, with around a quarter of a million children younger than 15 being HIV-positive (as of 2005). Every year as many as 64,000 newborns contract HIV through mother-to-child transmission, and half of the HIV-positive infants die before the age of 2.4 Aids has increased the number of single-parent and child-headed families, and the insufficient support and counsel in the areas of parental guidance and responsibilities are also matters of concern.
Primary education is not free. Net primary-school enrolment rates are 88 per cent for boys and 89 per cent for girls, but many schools are plagued by drug use, gang violence and sexual harassment.5 Inequality in access to education remains in some areas, particularly among black children, girls and children from economically disadvantaged families, many of whom still do not attend school.
There is also a continued practice of discrimination in some schools, particularly against black children in racially mixed schools. The school system struggles with problems such as overcrowding, high drop-out rates, illiteracy and repetition rates; lack of basic training materials; poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment; shortages of textbooks and other materials; insufficient number of trained teachers, particularly in traditionally black communities; and low morale of teachers.
Foreign nationals have been under attack in South Africa in recent years, and several leading human rights organizations have protested as property belonging to immigrants and refugees has been destroyed and people injured or forced to flee.6 Migrants to South Africa also report abuse in transit to South Africa, claiming they have been attacked upon arrival, and then denied care when they are injured or ill. The South African government is still not ensuring that these people get the care they need and are entitled to, under the country's constitution.7South Africa also lacks a formal legislative and administrative measure to ensure family reunification and to guarantee the right of access to education and health for refugee children.