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STUNTING A PHENOMENON THAT NEEDS TO BE STOPPED IN SOUTH AFRICA

Updated: Apr 29

With one of the largest economies and higher stunting levels than some of its poorer African neighbours, South Africa’s child food and nutrition insecurity, is in dire need to create opportunities beyond the classroom for learners, students, adults, and other interested parties in solving societal challenges through extended education.

 

South Africa is a beautiful country in Africa, it boasts many minerals like gold, diamond, platinum, iron ore, copper, and chromium to count a few. As much as the country has a wealth of minerals and vast land for agricultural production, the citizens still remain poor in the world.  Research done by the World Bank on median income indicates that 25% of people in SA are experiencing food poverty. With all the riches that this country has, it is surprising that there are very high [DB1] unemployment rates and therefore have challenges of food shortage in their homes. According to Stats SA, the biggest challenge facing South African young people [DB2] is unemployment, which stands at 4.6 million out of the 22 million young people. Unemployment, limited access to quality education, and economic inequality are the biggest challenges, and these all account for the high poverty rate. Poverty leads to people’s inability to eat healthy and is the number one cause of chronic malnutrition. Unemployment does not only cause malnutrition but also contributes to the high pregnancy rate in most townships and rural areas.


According to UNICEF, evidence from sub-Saharan Africa indicates that 35% of pregnancies among 15–19 year olds were unplanned, unwanted or untimed. Only about two thirds of these unintended pregnancies end in childbirth, while a third results in unsafe abortions. A study conducted in Soweto, South Africa, found that 23% of pregnancies carried by 13–16 year old young women and 14.9% in the 17–19 year age range ended in abortion.6 Several studies have identified the predictors of unsafe sexual practices during the early adolescent years, such as individual, sociodemographic, familial, and relational characteristics, poverty, cultural and family patterns of early sexual experience, and lack of school or career goals. The factors have a devastating influence on those children who survive these circumstances – circumstances that too often lead to stunting or wasting as known by others.


Wasting or stunting, defined as low weight-for-height, is the most visible and lethal type of malnutrition. Children and youth with low height for age are typically suffering from chronic undernutrition. A study conducted by the University of Cape Town on stunting indicated that more than one in four young children in South Africa are stunted.  This number stands at over 1.5 million children. Other studies define stunting as severe wasting, also known as severe acute malnutrition. This condition impacts the physical and mental growth and development of a child.


The percentage of stunted children has remained unchanged for the past thirty years. Poor nutrition is one of the main causes of stunting as indicated above. It is imperative that these challenges are taken seriously so that they can be eliminated. The biggest issue, however, is whether the people who are most impacted are even aware that this is a challenge.  How do we bring their attention to this catastrophe which affects generations because of ignorance? The Education Department does not teach people about stunting and its effect on child development. It does not teach about the long-term effects of children who are stunted and are unable to contribute positively and actively to the economic growth of their country. There is a dire need for extended education to assist mainstream education and fill gaps that are not covered by the curriculum. Extended education has an objective to create opportunities beyond the classroom for learners, students, adults, and other interested parties in solving societal challenges. Associations such as GELYDA whose aims are to establish an inter-continental field of extended education that strengthens young people, their educators, and families wherever they live and learn are instrumental in ensuring that policies and research address such challenges for the betterment of mankind.


Some of the fastest-growing economies in the world increased their growth in agricultural productivity to eliminate food shortages and ensure that people are well-fed, develop strong bodies and minds, and are employed.  The results were not only a reduction of poverty, and healthy citizens but also a contribution to economic growth. We need space, time, and resources to impart knowledge, improve practices, and get people working. South Africa has many schools that are empty and unused. Extended education programs can be facilitated in these facilities that are available  and nearer to people. There is also a strong need for extended education to partner with organizations that will fund the initiatives and provide other resources and support to implement them widely. 


“With one of the largest economies and higher stunting levels than some of its poorer African neighbours, South Africa’s child food and nutrition insecurity is linked to the inequities that characterize the country because of apartheid aftermath. The gap between the poor and the rich is growing significantly regardless of government programs to close it and it clear that it must be addressed with urgency, [DB3] according to the recently released Child Gauge 2020 report. “They reflect a slow, hidden and cumulative violence against South Africa’s children that is in conflict with the country’s Bill of Rights and Constitution and is a violation of their rights.” Factors from high unemployment to various forms of poverty, education inequality, lack of access to mentorship programs, extended education interventions, and many others hinder the youth from bettering their lives.


Organizations and associations of similar interest must not let this phenomenon carry on unabated.  Drastic steps must be taken to correct this situation to give these children a real chance to thrive.

 

May J, Witten C & Lake L (eds) (2020) South African Child Gauge 2020. Cape Town: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town. Report https://ci.uct.ac.za/child-gauge/cg-2020-food-and-nutrition-security 

 

About the author: Linda Khanyi is a keen educationist who worked in different education sectors as a teacher, university tutor, facilitator, principal, district support manager, Chief Education Specialist, and currently in the Parliament of South Africa as a content advisor and manager. She is also a founder of GELYDA.


Desclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of GELYDA.

 

The Global Extended Learning and Youth Development Association(GELYDA)



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