As election campaigning gains momentum in South Africa, many vote-seeking politicians trek all over the place, looking for support and publicity, but are seemingly untroubled by the fate of thousands of the country's children still living in extreme poverty. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) this week has called on journalists to hold politicians accountable through a series of questions to 'force' children's issues in election manifestos.
"Yes, the idea behind the series of questions is to raise awareness of children during these elections, but also to help ordinary citizens hold politicians accountable," MMA director William Bird told Bizcommunity.com this week.Has any party raised these issues?
There are 18.9 million children (40%) in South Africa out of a population of 50 million. Over five million of these children (30%) live in overcrowded conditions and 64% live in extreme poverty. An estimated 12% live in informal housing and in 2008 more than a third of these children did not have access to adequate sanitation (39%) or piped drinking water on site (36%), according to the University of Cape Town's Children's Institute.
And about 200 000 SA children are not attending school, especially in the Western Cape Province's farming areas, according to SA Statistics.
However, not a single political party seems to have raised these issues while campaigning, and the MMA hopes that if journalists could pose these questions to political parties their answers can be used to hold them accountable.
"These questions are clear and specific and go to the heart of local governance and children. We all know for example that every party says that it is going to fight crime, improve service delivery and so on.
"But the key issue is how are they going to do the things they talk about? It is in the how and who that we as ordinary citizens can see who we should vote for," Bird said.A trend that needs to end
Snubbing children's issues every election year has become a trend in SA, and the MMA is once again appealing on the media to use its influence to help place children on politicians' election agendas.
Bird said: "We find that we are getting more positive responses from media. The fact that we were able to have this as an election issue with good media participation suggests a shift. We still have a long way to go but social change doesn't happen overnight. The key thing is that we are seeing positive change. So yes, we are very optimistic."
Children should be treated as citizens, says Anthony Ambrose, World Vision South Africa advocacy advisor. He suggests the following methods to achieve this: dialogue (child participation), information (the right to information on what affects children), voice (collective voice) and accountability (hold ourselves accountable).Don't just see children as future party supporters
Joan van Niekerk, of Child Line, urges politicians to ensure that children feature in their respective party's election manifesto. "Do you know where children fit? Do not see children as potential party members but as citizens in their own right about whom every politician should have concern."
However, Bird believes that this can only succeed if the media, as society's watchdog, can share some of the responsibility.
"That's why we should pose these 10 questions to political parties. The party that is able to answer them most comprehensively will get my vote," he concluded.Some of the questions media should pose to politicians
1. How much would you spend on children, for what - and what difference will this make?
2. Where will children in appear in your 'integrated development plan'?
3. What are your plans for safe supervised spaces for our children?
4. There's a budget especially for our youngest children - what have you in mind for early childhood development?
5. What are you going to do for our poorest children?
6. Safety is not child's play! How will you ensure our children play safely?
7. How will your party halve poverty by 2015?
8. How can you make local government count?
9. 100 000 children are at risk because the system is failing them. What's your party's plan?
10. Great legislation - but what are you going to do to lobby your party, and National government to ensure these legal obligations are realised in your municipality?
Find more background to these questions here