South Africa: Their Mother Died in 2018. Since Then This Family of Five Has Survived On Child Support Grants

18 January 2021

A young woman from Mpumalanga has been caring for her three younger siblings as well as her son since their mother died in 2018.

She is completing her diploma to be a boilermaker and is battling to make ends meet.

There are an estimated 33,000 child-headed households, according to Stats SA data.

After being alerted to the Molepo family's case, the Department of Social Development and the municipality will be sending officials to assist the family.

Tidimalo Molepo is 20 and has been caring for her three younger siblings since their mother died over two years ago.

Tidimalo lives with her two-year-old son and her siblings aged 10, 13 and 17 in a small room they rent in Maganaubuswa Village near Siyabuswa, Mpumalanga. The family relies on the child support grants of the younger siblings to survive while Molepo completes her diploma to become a boilermaker. Her 17-year-old sister, Thabang, has also just completed matric and is waiting for her results. She wants to study teaching and has applied for student funding pending her results.

Tidimalo said that their father is still alive but only sees them "once in a while and covers part of our needs" but is unable to support them financially.

The Molepo family are among thousands of child-headed households who have fallen through the cracks and are battling to make ends meet without the support from the Department of Social Development. (And because Tidimalo is now over 18, this isn't officially a child-headed household anymore.)

After hearing about the family from GroundUp, officials said they will soon be visiting the family to make an assessment on how they can best offer help.

According to the most recent Statistics SA numbers, there were about 55,000 children living in 33,000 child-headed households across the country in 2018.

"While children living in child-only households are rare relative (0.3% of all children) to those residing in other household forms, the number of children living in this extreme situation is of concern," said the 2018 report by Katherine Hall of the Children's Institute.

Zita Nefale of the Centre for Child for Law said that there is very little robust data on child-headed households in South Africa and that the Stats SA figures "should be treated with caution as the number is just a very small sub-sample of the General Household Survey. In 2018, only 101 children were identified as being in child-headed households, out of a sample of over 25,000 children said the 2018 report."

To help children in child-headed households, Nefale said that the Children's Act of 2005 provided ways in which these families can be assisted by the state.

She said child-headed households can be registered with the department and will function under the supervision of an adult. The supervising adult must then ensure that the household has access to social grants, education, facilitating psychological, social and emotional support, and other services or assistance, said Nefale.

Nefale said that families who fall outside the state's definition of the child-headed household can still approach the department for support including the provision of food or psychological, social and emotional support. The particular context of the household is taken into account, she said.

Department of Social Development provincial spokesperson Comfort Ngobe said they will soon be sending representatives to assess the Molepo family's case.

"A report will be compiled to help us determine which departments that we should work with to bring much needed help to the Molepo family."

Ngobe said the regional manager at Dr JS Moroka Municipality has also been asked to help.

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