South Africa's children not doing well
South Africa falls 24 places in global ranking of child well-being according to a new report by Save the Children.

01 August 2012

South Africa – considered one of the strongest economies on the African continent – is making slow progress in ensuring children’s wellbeing. According to Save the Children’s new report, ‘The Child Development Index 2012: Progress, Challenges and Inequities,’ the country has fallen 24 places over the last decade. The child development index gauges child wellbeing against 3 indicators: health, education and nutrition.

“This big drop in ranking is mainly a consequence of other countries having overtaken us in terms of advancing children’s wellbeing,” explains Neven Hendricks, Chairperson of the Board of Save the Children South Africa. “We need to act now to dramatically improve child wellbeing as soon as possible.

Factors that have contributed to the country’s drop in rankings are:

  • Under-5 mortality saw a slight decline from 60 per thousand live births in 1990 to 57 per thousand live births in 2010, but some years in between actually saw increases in the rate of children dying.
  • South Africa is one of the few countries that hasn’t registered sufficient progress in both child and maternal mortality.
  • The proportion of underweight children below 5 years has remained at 9%.
  • Primary school enrolment was at 90% in 1990 and remains the same in 2010, but this has seen dips in the years in between.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding is just 8% - one of the lowest in the world. Neighbouring Swaziland is 44% and Tanzania is 50%, and Nigeria is 13%.

In South Africa, Save the Children recommends that government and civil society organisations urgently tackle the multiple causes of children’s deprivation including poverty and income inequality, which affects poor peoples’ access to good quality services.

“We urgently need to show progress on child malnutrition, and maternal and child mortality,” says Hendricks. “We also need to tackle the AIDS epidemic which severely impacts children’s health and education.” Recent estimates show that 330,000 South African children live with HIV and nearly 2 million are orphaned due to AIDS.

Overall, Save the Children’s report – which looks at the progress country-by-country for children against 3 key indicators: school enrolment, drops in child mortality and child weight – shows that the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition is increasing for the first time in a decade.

The findings come amid a back drop of high and volatile food and fuel prices, which is making it much harder for families to afford to feed their children properly.

Save the Children warns that a significant rise in acutely malnourished children threatens impressive progress in cutting child mortality and getting more children into school.

The organisation is calling for setting national and international targets to dramatically bring down the number of chronically malnourished children. “28 million people in Africa suffer from malnutrition,” says Jasmine Whitbread, CEO of Save the Children International.”


  • The increase in acute malnutrition is specifically based on wasting (acute weight loss as the result of grave deprivation of nutritious food at a specific point in time) which is symptomatic of acute malnutrition.
  • Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 2.6 million children dying in 2010 – the majority being attributed to chronic malnutrition.
  • The CDI uses statistics from the World Bank, UN and national sources, and calculates periodic averages for 1995-99, 2000-04 and 2005-10.
  • Slow progress in reducing the number of underweight children since 2000 is at odds with the other indicators, which prompted Save the Children to look closer at further figures on wasting (weight for height) and stunting (height for age) thus highlighting that wasting or acute malnutrition actually increased from the first half of the 2000s to the second.
  • The rise in malnutrition occurred in the 2nd half of the decade and there are more hungry children in the second half of the decade than in the first half of the decade. There is as yet insufficient accurate data available for 2011-12.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding figures are taken from the ‘Building a future for Women & Children: The 2012 Report’ (WHO and UNICEF Countdown Report).


Save the Children is the world’s leading independent organisation for children. We work in 120 countries. We save children’s lives; we fight for their rights; we help them fulfil their potential. We work together, with our partners, to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.

Visit the local Save the Children site here.

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