Child friendly society

What is a Child-friendly society?

In a child-friendly society:

  • every child would be part of a loving family group
  • every child would have enough healthy food to eat
  • every child would have access to clean water, adequate sanitation and a sustainable environment
  • every child would have a comfortable healthy home
  • every child would have opportunities for quality education
  • every child would have time and opportunities to play and for recreation every day
  • every child would have access to adequate health and medical care
  • every child would have respect and dignity
  • every child would be an active participant in decision-making about their own lives
  • every child would live in a community that puts their needs and rights first
  • and every child would be safe and be given special protection in times of trouble

Challenges to building a child-friendly society

The reality is that our present society is not meeting the needs of:

  • the 60-70% of children living in poverty
  • the 96,500 projected to die from AIDS in the next ten years and the 2 million who will be orphaned as their parents die of AIDS without life saving treatments
  • the 42,000 in foster or residential care
  • the 10,000 children who live or work on the streets
  • the 400,000 forced to work rather than learn
  • the thousands of children subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse
  • the 4 million children who experience some form of disability - over 70% of whom are out of school
  • the 200 babies born HIV positive every day because their mothers do not receive drugs to reduce the chance of the infection spreading
  • the 8.3% of children aged between 5-9 years who spend about five hours per day on economic child labour activities.

It is of deep concern that the situation of children has worsened over the past 5 years, in spite of our exemplary constitution and largely progressive laws. These legal provisions are important, but clearly they are not enough on their own.

At a macro level, we have been confronted with the challenges to children's rights from the effects of globalisation, commercialisation, environmental degradation and an increasing urban/rural divide, exacerbated by the South African government's macro-economic policy of GEAR and budget priorities that are anti-poor and anti-children.

We have to take into account the growing problems of poverty and the absence of social security nets for children and their families, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the lack of infrastructure and service delivery to meet health needs - all hurting children directly in the form of increased orphanhood, child abuse and neglect, increased levels of child labour, including commercial sexual exploitation and increasing numbers of street children and gangsterism.

Ongoing issues include corporal punishment, increasing levels of poor health among children and discrimination against immigrant children and their families.

Fact sheet on children in South Africa

It is useful to know more about the situation of children in order to assess how well we are doing as a society in practically achieving our vision of a child-friendly society.

How young are South Africans?

South Africa has a young population –

  • 44% of South Africans are legally children.
  • More than 1 in 3 are under the age of 15 years
  • 15% of the total population is aged 5 years or younger.

Where are children?

  • An estimated 27% (more than 1 in 4) South Africans live in KwaZulu/Natal
  • Nearly 2 of every 3 children (60%) in KwaZulu/Natal live in rural areas.

When and how do children die?

  • Children under the age of one die at a rate of between 8 and 120 for every 1000 live births, depending on race and area. The composite rate is 94 per 1000 live births in rural African communities.
  • Children under the age of 5 die at a rate of between 66 per 1000 depending on race and area.
  • In rural African communities the rate is estimated at 115 to 138 per 1000 live births. This figure has been dropping but no one knows what the affect of AIDS will be. One study shows that assault causes 38% (4 of every 10) of all deaths of children under the age of 14.
  • Other major causes of death are intestinal infections, respiratory diseases, bacterial and viral disease, congenital defects and nutritional defects.
  • In South Africa over 3 people drown on average per day. Over a third of these drownings are of children under the age of 14.

What makes children sick and hurt?

  • HIV/AIDS is a major cause of children dying from infections as it reduces their resistance to the common infections that kill children like diarrhoea and gastric infections, systemic thrush, encephalitis and respiratory infections (pneumonia and TB)
  • Another major cause of death in young children is accidents like poisoning (especially young children drinking paraffin), burns and road accidents (especially 7-12 year olds)
  • Nearly 1 in 4 of children under the age of 5 living in poverty suffers from moderate to severe stunting.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 children under the age of 5 is severely under weight. This also increases their vulnerability to infections.

How strong are our families and communities?

  • Lack of consistent, stable care-givers for children - family dysfunction is increasing - divorce, migrant labour for both parents, children moving between relatives, single parents (15% of teenagers in SA fall pregnant)
  • *Between 20% and 60% of black households are single-parent and female headed - depending on the area.
  • Orphans - rapidly increasing numbers of orphans due to AIDS deaths of parents (estimated to reach millions within a few years)
  • Unemployment - 1 in 3 South Africans over the age of 15 who are seeking work are not employed. The figure is nearly 1 in 2 for KwaZulu-Natal.
  • 200 000 children in South Africa between the ages 10 to 15 are employed as child labourers.
  • Poverty - Nearly 1 in 4 South Africans have less than R6 per day for all expenses.
  • South Africa ranks in the top two counties of the world regarding disparity of household income. The lowest 40% of the population have 9% of the income and the top 20% have 63% of the income.
  • South Africa spends comparatively high amounts on social spending, but 6 in 10 children live in poverty.
  • * Over half of rural households do not have access to clean water


  • Literacy rates - 1 in 5 adults cannot read.
  • 35 % of children enrolled in primary school do not reach standard 3.
  • KZN has the fourth highest pupil teacher ratio in SA at 36 to 1, with the second lowest expenditure per pupil.

Practical exercises for developing a group vision of a child-friendly society


  • 80% (8 of 1 0) are Christians, while other faiths include
  • African Traditional
  • Hindu
  • Muslim
  • Jewish


  • 22% of South Africans speak Zulu as their first language
  • 18% Xhosa
  • 15 % Afrikaans
  • 9% English
  • English is the most commonly spoken language

Who are children in special need?

  • Children under the age of 8 - these are the formative years. 90% of the adult brain weight is attained by the age of seven years. The core of his/her personality, social and emotional disposition will be formed by the same time.
  • Children with Disabilities -an estimated 85 in every 1000 people in KZN have some disability.
  • Children living on the street – between 1994 and 1995 approximately 10 000 children were living on the streets in South Africa.
  • Children in prison -in Westville prison there are 800 children convicted and 600 awaiting trial. In 1993, there were between 300 and 400 children convicted. Juvenile offenders are on the increase.
  • Child victims of violence - Calls to Childline reporting rape and other abuse have risen from 350 to over 5000 per month over the past 5 years.
  • In South Africa, an estimated 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 8 boys are sexually abused before the age of 16 years. In 80% of the cases the molester is known to the family or the child.

Every 30 seconds a woman is raped. It is estimated that 10 other people known to that woman will be adversely affected by this violence. Amongst these her children will be most strongly affected.


Practical exercises for developing a group vision of a child-friendly society

  • The first step is to find partners and build an alliance, including the children.
  • You can then explore a common vision and plan practical steps to realise this vision.

What is a Child-friendly society?

The first practical exercise is to agree on what you mean by 'society' - at what level do you plan to work. 'Society' can be defined from the smallest unit (the family) to the largest (the nation). In brainstorming what you think society includes, you can look at the following and their role in children's lives:

  • State and local government departments that directly and indirectly affect children's lives (for example health and security - direct, land and labour - indirect)
  • Para-statal organisations such as Telkom, water, electricity, nature conservation boards and so on
  • The NGO sector and its service organisations, especially those concerned with children's rights
  • Civil institutions such as religious organisations, sports clubs, cultural groups and so on
  • The business sector
  • Funding organisations and their priorities and limits.

What scale to go to?

You need to consider the size and nature of the "society" you wish to engage with. Problems are greater if one goes to a large scale for example to try to "make South Africa - or even Durban Metro - a child friendly society". Usually a smaller local authority or ward is the best target as the scale is smaller, and the authorities are closer to their constituency and more accessible. You might start with an awareness campaign for the entire local community to be "child friendly" or you might start with one model - for example to help the local clinic to be child-friendly.

Look at children's needs in context

When we examine whether an institution is meeting the needs of children it is vital to get the views of children themselves. If we take the example of the clinic we can examine how an institution does or does not meet children's needs. We can then draw up a checklist, and do a survey:

Sample checklist for a clinic:


  • Are there enough staff and do they have sufficient equipment and supplies?
  • How long on average do families have to wait to be attended to?
  • How far do they have to travel to get to there?


  • Are the building and its environs clean and hygienic?
  • Are they attractive and welcoming?
  • Are clients made comfortable while they wait? Are there toys and activities for the children?

Personal Relationships:

Look at how all staff relate to patients, especially children. For example:

  • Are they patient and sympathetic to parents and children?
  • Do they explain procedures and what they are going to do to both parents and children in a way that that they can understand? For example, they can use pictures or demonstrate beforehand on a doll.
  • Do they comfort and encourage a parent to comfort a crying child?
  • Do they take time to give practical advice on primary health care to families?
  • Do they show respect for the dignity of children and young people (how do they react when a young person wants condoms, for example?)

Draw up similar checklists for police stations, schools, day-care centres, welfare offices, religious institutions, sports and cultural clubs looking at:

  • What is provided in services and facilities, and are children's needs given special consideration?
  • The environment and physical setting such as space, comfort, cleanliness, shade, and play-equipment and the safety of children.
  • Whether the procedures were followed and the way staff relate to children.

Child-friendly local government

In several countries each local area has an elected children's forum, to which all local council decisions that affect children must be referred.

Due weight has to be given to the children's points of view. In one such area the children vetoed a proposal to turn a playground into a car park - pointing out that a car park in that location would be a hazard to local small children as they came out of school. The adults had not realised this!

Learning from the 'child-friendly municipalities' campaign in Guatemala
In Guatemala in 1999, there was a campaign for municipalities or local authorities to become child friendly. Save the Children Fund sponsored this and an award ceremony was held on December 10th, Human Rights Day.

As a practical exercise you could examine the different "child friendly" aspects and put them in a South African or local context. Note the following-

  • The clinic - the right to health care - note the nurse going out of her way to talk to children in the road
  • The school - the right to education
  • The church - The right to practise one's religion (the slogan on the church is "Nunca mas" a campaign run by the Catholic church to say "Never again!" to massacres and human rights violations)
  • The sports field - the right to play
  • The cultural centre - the right to maintain one's own culture and to respect the cultures of others.
  • The local government offices in the centre - the right to participate in decisions (Note that the mayor is smiling while talking to the children outside. One of them, from her dress, belongs to the oppressed Mayan group)
  • The market - the right to food and jobs for parents and alleviation from poverty
  • Safe and clean streets
  • Clean water
  • A burial ground - after the prolonged civil war, with massacres and mass graves, the children of Guatemala have demanded the right to a dignified burial for their parents. (This continuity with their ancestors and traditions is very important in children's lives).
  • The bird flying overhead. This is the national bird, a Quetzale, and it symbolises unity and peace.

Draw up your own map to show the town, village, city, or other society that you would like to be child friendly to make your vision more concrete.

Activities using the poster:

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