Former president and ANC leader Nelson Mandela was one of the most renowned advocates of SOS Children's Villages in South Africa. Against the background of South Africa's HIV/AIDS pandemic, the organisation focuses on implementing community-based childcare & support programmes in order to help vulnerable children and their families.
Poverty and inequality are widespread
Brothers and sisters grow up together in an SOS family - photo: SOS archives
The Republic of South Africa is a parliamentary democracy situated in Southern Africa. In 1994, South Africa saw its first universal elections. By an overwhelming margin, they were won by the African National Congress, which has been in power ever since.
Although South Africa has the continent's biggest economy, the lives of many of its citizens are still marked by high levels of poverty. The country's total population amounts to approximately 50 million and its capital city is Pretoria.
Modern office buildings just three blocks away from mud huts
South Africa is a country characterised by tremendous contrast: while thousands of people live in extreme poverty, within kilometres others reside in luxury palaces, located in "gated communities", as the ghettos of wealthy people are often referred to. Despite South Africa's status as an upper middle income country, 23 per cent of its population still live below the national poverty line.
Although poverty figures have noticeably dropped over recent years, the marginalisation of tens of thousands of people who find themselves on the bottom steps of the socioeconomic ladder is evident. At around 24 per cent, the unemployment rate in South Africa nearly equals the country's poverty rate. A strong connection between poverty and joblessness is therefore manifest. Inequality is another problem the country faces. While poverty has decreased, income inequality has been on the rise.
At roughly 37 murders per 100,000 citizens, South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. At birth, the average life expectancy in South Africa is only 53 years. The country also has a very high incidence of rape, especially in and around Johannesburg, where the problem has become increasingly common among adolescents.
Furthermore, South Africa is characterised by one of the highest numbers of HIV-positive citizens in the world. Although the government has implemented a number of prevention programmes, around 18 per cent of South Africans between 15 and 49 years of age live with HIV/AIDS, making the disease the biggest health issue in the country.
Children need protection
The first post-apartheid government of South Africa ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995 and, shortly after the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child. Nonetheless, a vast part of South African children remain caught up in extreme poverty.
Children in our care can play in safety - photo: SOS archives
Children under 18 years of age represent two-fifths of South Africa's population. Black Africans account for the vast majority of these children. Nearly 3.9 million children in South Africa are orphans. Around two million of them have lost either one or both of their parents due to AIDS and 360,000 live with HIV, a sad number that shows the extent to which the disease has been affecting the country's youngest segment of the population. The HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa is one of the greatest threats to compliance with child rights. Children whose parents are HIV-positive face multiple vulnerabilities, such as becoming infected themselves, the fear of losing parental care, social discrimination and neglect. Overall, HIV/AIDS is a major cause of deepening poverty in the country.
The number of children who face a life without parental care has been on the rise lately, particularly in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. 82,000 South African children live in child-headed households. A large number of children and adolescents cannot attend school due to financial constraints or because they have to put food on the table for their families. The country has made significant progress in providing access to basic education in recent years. The primary school enrolment rate in South Africa is 86 per cent.
The opportunities that a child will find later in life are dependent on the socio-economic circumstances of the child's parents. Lost opportunities during childhood can often not be compensated for later in life; this means that a child who is poor today is likely to end up being a poor parent in the future. Since poverty is a phenomenon that is often transferred across generations, it is crucial to break the vicious circle at an early age and provide poor children with educational opportunities and a caring family environment.
SOS Children's Villages in South Africa
At present, SOS Children's Villages is supporting South African children and their families in eight locations by providing day care, vocational training and medical assistance. HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns are organised in some SOS Children's Villages in order to tackle the growing number of infections.
Every time natural disasters like storms and floods hit South Africa, SOS Children's Villages provides immediate help where it is needed most in the form of SOS Emergency Relief Programmes.
Furthermore, the organisation runs SOS Family Strengthening Programmes in order to support children and young people who are at risk of losing parental care. When children can no longer stay with their families, they are cared for by their SOS mothers in one of the SOS families.