ANC Newswire
19 August 1996

Plan for Meeting Children's Needs

A new national programme aims to address the needs of South Africa's
children, Khensani Makhubela reports.

The National Programme of Action for Children - a coordinated strategy to provide for the needs of South Africa's children - was launched by the health ministry in May. The launch of the programme or NPA emphasised the commitment of the government towards the improvement of the wellbeing of children in South Africa. The ministry, various non-governmental organisations and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) are all involved in the implementation of the NPA.

At the launch of the programme president Nelson Mandela said: "In launching comprehensive and long-term programmes, sight is sometimes lost of immediate needs and particular problems. It is not the intention that the launch of this programme should be at the expense of any children anywhere, nor of the organisations which played an important role when government neglected our children. On the contrary, such a programme should involve steps to deal with existing problems and to assist the organisations to adapt their roles to present needs."

South Africa has adapted the World Summit goals for the year 2000 to meet the needs of its children. By ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in the 1995 parliamentary session and accepting the 1990 World Summit for Children's goals for survival, protection and development, the government has committed itself to placing children's affairs as a top priority.

The NPA aims to strengthen broader nation development programmes, combining revitalised economic growth, poverty reduction, human resource development and environmental protection. And at the same time, the provinces are also encouraged to implement plans of action for children, taking into consideration the inter-sectoral nature of the challenge.

Having a specific integrated programme to ensure the survival, protection and development of South Africa's children is therefore a vital element in building an economically dynamic and healthy nation. Children can be the country's spearhead for attacking poverty, reinforcing human rights, and accelerating growth and development.

Such a programme will also help alleviate the urgent plight of the children of today, the principal victims of yesterday's neglect of the majority of South Africa's people.

"South Africa has the resources, if we use them wisely, to change the situation. There is no reason for our society to allow one out of every eight children born to die before their fifth birthday; and a quarter of those that survive to grow up physically stunted," Mandela said.

"It should not continue to be the case that more than half of rural South Africans live over five kilometres from a medical facility. The extent of illiteracy amongst adults and emotional disturbance amongst young children must not be part of our future," he said.

The health ministry said that tackling the needs of children called for a comprehensive approach that affected all areas of policy, legislation and practice. And this will mean that departments and offices of government at all levels should cooperate and join hands with non-governmental organisations and all sectors of society.

The ministry said that they must find ways to unleash the power and wisdom of all South Africans in this endeavour. Effective implementation requires a reliable monitoring and information system to measure progress and identify further needs. The needs, the targets and the progress should be known not just to decision-makers, but to ordinary people throughout the country.

In that way they too can help in mobilising resources, rejoice in progress and successes, and urge more action when it is needed. Improving the welfare of the children should become as much a part of the new patriotism as success on the sporting field and progress in overcoming the divisions of the past.

A report to the United Nations on the progress that South Africa has made towards improving the wellbeing of children by implementing the NPA is due in June 1997.

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