17 September 2010

South Africa: Social Protection, a Human Right?

Photo: Hugo Rami/IRIN
An Aids patient in the public hospital in Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Tshwane — Without contributions from well wishers and government grants of between 68 and 104 dollars per month per child, the House of Mother and Child in Ennerdale, south of Johannesburg, would barely be able to provide for the 18 vulnerable children who call the place home.

The safe house is home to 18 orphans, of which seven are AIDS orphans, while others are survivors of severe sexual and physical abuse.

Chairlady Coreen Kirkman told IPS that the home needs 2,000 dollars a month for food, rent and electricity. It is a princely sum the home cannot afford on its own. But government child and foster grants for the 18 children, aged between two and 18 years, have eased part of the burden. The Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RVHP) has also adopted the home and fund raises on its behalf.

"Receiving a regular income, however small, is definitely helpful as we can plan (ahead). Not all months are the same in terms of expenses. January is very expensive (as we have) to buy stationery for the new school year, for example, and we never know when there will be school excursions," Kirkman said.

She added that with grants and contributions from RHVP, the home had enough money for the first two weeks of the month and would rely on contributions from community members for the remaining two weeks. The home has become a safe haven for vulnerable children by stretching the little resources it receives from donors and government grants, an important part of social protection.

The role of social protection, specifically cash transfers, was the subject of a two-day dialogue hosted by RHVP in Tshwane from Sep. 16 to 17. The dialogue tackled the question of how social transfers can help meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically the first goal number of reducing extreme poverty and hunger especially among society's most vulnerable groups.

The advocacy group, Section 27 supports discussions on a chronic illness grant. "The recognition for a chronic illness grant comes from the understanding that there are many financial barrier often in the way of poor people accessing the free services provided in government institutions," senior researcher and head of policy and research at Section 27, Jonathan Berger told IPS.

"A chronic illness grant, which will include HIV but not be limited to HIV, is not (a) case of social cash transfers for people to purchase their own health services, but a transfer so that people are able to access services that government is already providing."

The jury is out on whether governments in Southern Africa are liable for not meeting the MDGs having signed international conventions on human rights which oblige them to provide social protection. But the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) says it will move to have social protection made part of national constitutions.

"Using social protection to address vulnerable groups, particularly those affected by HIV and AIDS, would be a logical thing to do because most of our citizens are in one way affected by HIV and AIDS," said SADC PF Secretary General, Esau Chiviya.

"HIV and AIDS have greatly contributed to orphans. With no meaningful source of livelihood, this where social protection comes in and where we need to have it legislated so that it becomes an obligation for government to provide it. Ordinary people will then have a basis to take to government to court."

Governments in Southern Africa have a signed conventions that endorse the need for social protection such as the SADC Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of August 2003, specifically article 10 which obliges member states to "create an enabling environment so that every worker in the region shall have a right to adequate social protection and shall, regardless of status and the type of employment, enjoy adequate social security benefits." The 2006 Livingstone Call to Action obliged Southern African governments to have national social protection plans within three years.

Governments have cited the main reasons for the failure to meet the first MDG as: lack of money; questions over the appropriateness of social protection in terms of promoting dependency; and questions on who drives the process.

The Grow up Free from Poverty Coalition has called for stronger advocacy by civil society to get governments to act in the remaining five years of the MDG initiative to follow up on the agreements they have signed.

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