In South Africa, 16.5 million people from a population of 51.8 million are recipients of social assistance grants.
According to Statistics South Africa, the official unemployment rate was 27.7% and the expanded unemployment rate is 36.4% during the first quarter of 2017.
These figures suggest a nation in trouble since a large number of individuals clearly cannot obtain gainful employment.
The social assistance grants are targeted at specific individuals, but in practice they are shared by families since these individuals live in poor households.
Instead of adults giving financial support to their dependents, adult household members became financially dependent on those they have to care for.
Given this national disjointedness, who cares for whom in households that are dependent on social assistance grants?
In the case of the child support grant, the primary care-giver of the minor child receives the grant regardless of his or her gender.
This practice is referred to as follow-the-child principle. During the first five years of the inception of the grant, only 0.2% of the caretakers were men, but this has gradually increased to 3.8%.
The follow-the-child principle is in contrast to many Latin American countries where only women may receive the grants as caretakers of children. The female caretakers have to ensure that their children attend school, receive their immunisations and these caretakers may even have to participate in community work, such as cleaning, to continue accessing the grants.
This may seem like an exemplary practice, but in South Africa nearly all children are attending school and accessing primary healthcare. Although the work asked from female caregivers seems to counter-weigh dependency, it can, ironically, have the opposite effect since it may prevent them from having enough time to seek employment. Also, by declaring that only female caretakers can access the grants, the notion of women as primary caretakers is reinforced and men are essentially told they cannot be acknowledged as proper caregivers.
In South Africa, at least 92% of primary caretakers of children in poor households are women and include mothers, grandmothers and aunts.
Yet, contrary to certain popular discourses, there is no systematic evidence that the child support grant encourages women to have more children.
On the contrary, the total fertility rate (average number of children per woman) dropped sharply during the last two decades, from 3.23 children per women in 1996 to 2.67 children per woman in 2011, according to Statistics South Africa’s fertility analysis in 2015.
Rather, the overwhelming number of women being primary caretakers of children supports the worldwide observation that women are taking on the bulk of care in families.
Despite the value of the child support grant being only R380 per month, initial findings from the National Income Dynamics Study show positive health outcomes for children whose caregivers access the child support grant.
The overwhelming majority of female caregiver recipients of childcare grants are thus using the money wisely, similar to older women using their old age grants to the benefit of their families.
* Professor Marlize Rabe is from the Department of Sociology at the University of South Africa. This article is an extract of Rabe’s inaugural address that can be accessed online.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.