What does the State of the Nation Address (2013) have to say about children?

Commentary by Childline SA

In the opening paragraphs of his “State of the Nation” address, President Zuma noted the importance of the National Development Plan and the need to address unemployment, poverty and inequality – all of which touch deeply on the lives of children.

However, apart from noting the need for consultation across the business community and unions, no solutions to these pressing challenges were presented and the President moved on to describing the progress made in the development of infrastructure across the country.

What does the State of the Nation Address (2013) have to say about children?
Commentary by Childline SA

In the opening paragraphs of his “State of the Nation” address, President Zuma noted the importance of the National Development Plan and the need to address unemployment, poverty and inequality – all of which touch deeply on the lives of children.

However, apart from noting the need for consultation across the business community and unions, no solutions to these pressing challenges were presented and the President moved on to describing the progress made in the development of infrastructure across the country.

Youth unemployment was addressed and plans for apprenticeships and learnerships, employment hubs for youth were noted.

The President noted achievements in education – both in increasing the Matric pass rate, as well as the developments in pre-school education. He emphasised the importance of improving learning and achievement in Mathematics, Science and Technology. The need to turn schools into centres of excellence and declare teaching an essential service was mentioned.

Of importance to children was the mention that child and infant mortality rates have improved, as well as life expectancy. These two factors are significant positives – because not only are children surviving infancy and childhood – but so are parents and this contributes to family stability and well-being.

The President referred to the approval of the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Bill by Cabinet, and its focus on criminalising discriminatory practices and abusive acts against women and girls. The mention of the recent rape and murder of teenager Anene Booysen was held up as an example of violence against women.

The establishment of the National Council on Gender Based Violence was noted as a means of dealing with issues of violence against women and girls.

The President stated that in order to combat violence against women and children, the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units, which were re-established in 2010, have increased personnel and that during the last financial year, the Units secured over 363 life sentences, with a conviction rate of 73% for crimes against women above 18 years old and 70% for crimes against children under 18 years of age. The development of the Bill on Protection from Harassment was also mentioned as being in the process of development.

However the above deals with response to violence once it has occurred rather than primary prevention of violence and crime.

Overall the State of the Nation Address contained very little in the way of either achievements or the way forward in relation to improving the lives of children. The lack of direction and forward focus is of concern.

Perhaps at a time like this, when we reflect on the State of the Nation Address, we need to revisit a quotation from Graca Machel whose commitment to children’s rights, along with that of her husband Nelson Mandela, is legendary. She stated;

“I come from a culture in which, traditionally, children are seen as both our present and our future, so I have always believed it is our responsibility as adults to give children futures worth having.
I have often been shocked and angered to see how shamefully we have failed in this responsibility.
Children are precious gifts, which adults everywhere have a duty to protect. Political leaders make promises about the protection of children, but the important thing is that they should fulfil those promises.”