JOHANNESBURG - As South Africa looks forward to chairing the BRICS Summit starting 25th July, we should ask ourselves if enough focus is being placed on issues affecting children and young people. 

The theme of this year’s summit is “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution”. 

We can only reach this goal if all children receive quality care and are equipped to thrive in this new era. We should ask ourselves what inclusive growth and shared prosperity looks like, when so many young people today are excluded from the mainstream economy. 

The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu has spoken about new BRICS cooperation areas that have been proposed. These include a working group on peacekeeping; the creation of a vaccine research centre; a BRICS gender and women forum; and strategic partnerships towards the progress of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

While these efforts are important, they are not specifically child focused.

The vast majority of children in Africa are affected by poverty and inequality, as well as underlying problems in education systems and the labour market. Of greatest concern is the ever increasing proportion of children who have lost or are at risk of losing parental care. These children are placed at an immense disadvantage, and often struggle to achieve self-reliance in adulthood.

Reaching the laudable goals of the 4th Industrial Revolution will depend on how the most vulnerable children are involved. It is critical that all children receive quality care in a protective family and community environment. That they are loved, respected and secure within their families. Additionally, education systems need to equip children and young people with the relevant skills to thrive in a world of rapid technological progress. 

While discussions on economies and business are important, conversations at the BRICS level should also focus on what can be done to better equip children to reach their full potential, so that they can thrive in the 4th industrial revolution. These discussions need to translate into actionable steps, and outcomes. That is how we should measure the success of engagements such as BRICS.

SOS Children’s Villages is part of a movement for child care and child rights. We work to improve care for children who are neglected, abandoned or abused. In other words, some of the most vulnerable children in society. Their numbers are growing, and not enough is being done ensure that they receive a fair chance in life. Most children who lose their parents become stuck in an intergenerational cycle of poverty, and they struggle to settle in society and participate in the economy.

What becomes of these children when they reach adulthood in the 4th Industrial Revolution? This is why we need discussions at the highest level, such as the BRICS Summit. This is why we need greater investment in building families and communities, and for the provision of alternative care. We need to ensure that young people have access to skills training, work experience and career guidance.

There is nothing more critical to the achievement of inclusive growth, than improving the care and education of the most vulnerable children. 

Steve Miller is the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE