The HIV prevalence rate in South Africa is among the highest in the world and the country also outranks all others in the absolute number of infected people within its borders.
HIV/AIDS is among the major problems facing the country, but certainly not the only major socioeconomic challenge. Although South Africa is a middle-income country, it has high levels of poverty due to highly unequal distribution of income and resources.
This article examines how policies in relation to financial and other care for children have been formulated since the mid-1990s in this situation. It draws heavily on the personal experience and knowledge of the three authors, who played a range of roles in the development of and advocacy around the three policies listed below. It also draws on a range of other studies in some of the policy areas, as well as the official laws, regulations and policy papers.
For the purposes of this article, the term ‘policy’ is understood in a broad sense that extends to laws and regulations. The article focuses on issues relating to both the content of the policies, and the process through which they were developed, as well as how process and content influenced each other.
This study discusses three policies: (1) the Child Support Grant (CSG), (2) the Children’s Act and Amendment Bill, and (3) the Foster Care Grant (FCG). The policies differ widely in terms of the stage of the policy process, as well as the way in which the policy has been, or is being, developed. What is common across the three policies is that they are large-scale interventions involving significant amounts of money, and they were not designed specifically to address HIV/AIDS-related issues.
The South African government’s ambivalent stance on HIV/AIDS is well known (Gumede 2005), but has varied across departments and affected the policies examined in this article less than policy and practice directly targeting HIV/AIDS. The strongest denialism came from the Minister and Department of Health and the Presidency. In contrast, the Minister and Department of Social Development have been among the most open about acknowledging the pandemic and discussing how to address it. The Department of Social Development is weaker than many other departments in terms of status and capacity. Ironically, the low importance accorded to social welfare by many of the key decision-makers might have allowed more space for the development of innovative policy.
In the mid-1990s, soon after the formal transition from apartheid to a democratic government, the Social Welfare White Paper introduced the notion of ‘developmental social welfare’. The new approach promoted interventions at a broad level so as to try to prevent problems arising in the first place, rather than simply addressing individual problems as they arose. The new policy approach is relevant for all three of the policies studied. In respect of the Children’s Act, the new approach supported the emphasis on prevention and early intervention, rather than on simply helping those already in trouble. In respect of the two grants, the new approach was interpreted by some as implying that grants were an inferior form of assistance. Grants were (incorrectly) seen as ‘handouts’ or ‘band-aid’. However, some researchers (Posel et al. 2006; Samson et al. 2004) have argued that grants provide people with the means to help themselves and can promote economic engagement.
The FCG existed during the apartheid years. The other two policies – the CSG and Children’s Act (which was to replace the existing Child Care Act) – were developed against the background of a new Constitution which provides justiciable socioeconomic rights, with especially strong rights for children. Public interest litigation through the courts has been used as one way of influencing policy.
The government has sought to balance the push towards rights-based public policies and its desire for ‘fiscal prudence’. The grants are of special interest in discussions around finances, as once the right to a grant has been established in a national law, a government has an ongoing obligation to provide the necessary funds and any non-provision can be challenged as unconstitutional. In the debates around the CSG and the Children’s Bill, in particular, many of the arguments against extending provision were based on whether the state is constitutionally obliged to deliver the relevant service, the cost involved, and the risk of litigation if resource and capacity constraints prevent the state from being able to deliver on the promised benefit or service. Today the threat of court action is in the minds of both the executive and the legislature when developing policies and implementing them.
Children can be expected to have much less ‘voice’ than adults to influence policy, therefore child rights activists within government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have a critical role to play in shaping policy. The three case studies provide interesting contrasts in terms of both the depth of consultation and public participation, as well as the stage at which it occurs. There are also differences as to who is involved in terms of civil society and the legislatures.
There is also a range of issues related to the institutional set-up in South Africa post-1994 that influenced the process and content of policy making.
Constitutionally, national government bears the main responsibility for social policy, while provinces bear the main responsibility for implementation. The allocation of functions affects implementation and equity as the nine provinces differ considerably in respect of capacity and resources, among others. These differences are largely a legacy of the apartheid era. Stated crudely, the areas which previously incorporated homelands continue to be under-served, less wealthy and have less ‘efficient’ administration. Somewhat paradoxically, grants were among the more efficiently administered services in these areas, and the CSG was able to build on this existing extensive delivery system.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 39.5 (2008) Formulating and Implementing Socioeconomic Policies for Children in the Context of HIV/AIDS: A South African Case Study