Despite government efforts to improve the living conditions of children, particularly through social grants, almost two-thirds of all South African children live in poverty.
This is according to a report released recently by the SA Human Rights Commission and United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), based mainly on the 2009 annual General Household Survey.
Unemployment is a huge obstacle to children's well-being. Almost four out of every ten children live in households with no employed household members.
Between 2002 and 2007, the number of hungry children halved (to 15%). But by 2009, over a quarter of all South African children (22%) reported being hungry as the recession started to bite and jobs were lost.
The hungriest children were found in the Free State, where 38% of kids reported being hungry. KwaZulu-Natal followed with 30% of kids going hungry. Children were least likely to be hungry in the Western Cape and Gauteng.
Interestingly, although 83% of children in Limpopo lived in poverty, only 10% reported going hungry.
Lack of food has had a permanent stunting effect on one in five South African kids. The number of children with micronutrient deficiencies (especially vitamin A and iron), caused by inadequate diet, doubled between 1994 and 2000.
"Close to five percent of children suffer from wasting and face a markedly increased risk of death. Chronic under-nutrition in early childhood results in diminished cognitive and physical development, which puts children at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives," according to the report.
Although the School Nutrition Programme reached six out of 10 children in public schools, according to the report, over the past few years poor administration has seen the programme collapsing in parts of the Eastern Cape and Free State.
A child's race and location had a huge impact on their well-being. A black child is 12 times more likely to experience hunger than a white child and 18 times more likely to grow up in poverty. Children in former homelands were the most deprived.
On average, only a third of children live with both parents and children growing up in female-headed households are more likely to be poor and hungry.
About 20% of kids (1.9 million) have lost one or both parents - mostly as a result of HIV/AIDS. About half a million kids live with foster parents.
The death rate for children under the age of five has not improved since 1990, while maternal mortality (women dying in, or as a result of, pregnancy) has increased by a shocking 80% since 1990.
"Each year in South Africa, around 4 300 mothers die due to complications of pregnancy and child birth; 20 000 babies are stillborn and another 23 000 die before they reach one month of age," according to the report.
"In total, some 75 000 children die before their fifth birthday. This toll of over 270 maternal and child deaths every day is mainly due to HIV and AIDS and poor implementation of existing packages of care."
However, HIV prevalence among children has decreased since 2002.
Child Support Grants have made a significant impact on the lives of poor children and by 2012 this grant will be extended to cover kids up to the age of 17. But over two million eligible children were not receiving the grants by 2008, mainly because they lacked the necessary identity documents.
"Children in the poorest households appear to have benefited least from progress since the end of apartheid. The income situation of a child's family, race, location and to a lesser degree gender, determine the extent of inequities in the fulfillment of children's rights," concludes the report.