The South African Child Gauge 2017 also indicated over half of children could not read fluently and with comprehension at the end of Grade 4.
Almost a third of South Africa’s estimated population of 55.7 million are children under the age of 15 years.
The Child Gauge is published annually by the Children’s Institute at UCT to monitor progress towards realising children’s rights and this year’s focus was on measuring progress or lack of towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the theme "Survive, Thrive and Transform".
Children are at the heart of the 2030 Global Agenda and the realisation of their rights is seen as the foundation of global security, sustainability and human progress.
The SDGs have 17 goals which include ending poverty and hunger, the promotion of quality education, access to clean water, and sanitation and gender equality.
The Child Gauge noted that addressing child poverty and inequality was essential if children were to survive, thrive and reach their full potential.
It added that while South Africa was undertaking steps to reduce poverty and inequality, the reach and impact on children was unclear.
However, the report also noted progress achieved in realising children’s rights.
These included the reductions in infant and child mortality, mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids, as well as improvements in the legal and policy frameworks to combat violence against children.
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe acknowledged that, despite democratic and economic reforms since the attainment of democracy, many children were still trapped in poverty and excluded from important aspects of social, economic and political life.
“Compounding the problem is the fact that 21% of children do not live with their parents and poverty is higher for these children, as on average women earn lower than men.
“And although the child support grant has helped in reducing the proportion of children living below the food poverty line, the number of children still living below the poverty line remains high at 5.5 million,” Radebe said.
He said more needed to be done to address the 3.4 million children who lived in overcrowded housing conditions, and a further six million who had no access to clean drinking water.
Radebe added that to achieve the SDGs and create an enabling environment for children to thrive, government needed to invest in programmes that boosted the capabilities of caregivers and build a capable and committed public service that was able to implement strategies.
Co-author of the report Lucy Jamieson, echoed that South Africa still had a long way to go to create an enabling environment in which children not only survived, but also thrived.
According to the report, there’s a lack of regular administrative and survey data to monitor the SDGs.
Benyam Mezmur of the Dullah Institute of Constitutional Law Governance and Human Rights, urged South Africa to come up with models and interventions that would turn the tide as the rest of the continent looked up to it.
He also called on government to collaborate across sectors and levels of government to promote holistic child development.