Putting children’s rights first

Issues like children’s access to basic services are tackled on the portal.
(Image: Unicef South Africa)

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Andries Viviers
  Senior social policy specialist: Unicef SA
 +27 12 354 8201 or +27 79 498 4991

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Only in its third month of operation, a Policy Action Network (Pan) portal, dedicated solely to the topic of children’s rights and equity, is receiving keen attention from academics and people working in the field.

The establishment of Pan: Children was first discussed two years ago, but efforts by the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HRSC) to get it off the ground only started in late 2011. It also enjoys the support of the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPPD), a partnership between the South African government and the EU.

Although the Pan platform has been in existence since 2009 – with the Research Use and Impact Assessment Unit of the HSRC as hosts, and funding from the Department of Science and Technology – the conceptualisation of Pan: Children only started a year later.

A Unicef South Africa national stakeholders’ meeting held in Pretoria in late 2010 featured the topic of equity and child rights in the country, and delegates set out to find common ground on the causes of inequality.

Once the factors that contribute to the poverty and inequality situation were established, the next step, agreed delegates, was to put in place policy action to address those issues. Researchers, policy makers and professionals involved in the field of child law around the world require reliable sources of information on issues informing the socio-economic stature of the country.

A few months after the meeting, a roundtable discussion took place in May 2011, where representatives from the Presidency and the Department of Social Development presented under the auspices of the PSPPPD. Again the issue of content relating to child poverty and inequality was highlighted, along with the need for further research into collating information on the topic.

“The systematic gathering and storage of data and evidence is crucial for driving an evidence-based national agenda for children,” read the discussion report, “and a platform for sharing data and evidence pertinent to child poverty should be created.”

At the end of 2011, Unicef and the HSRC started working on the portal, according to Andries Viviers, senior social policy specialist for Unicef South Africa.

“The actual work of building the portal started in June 2012, followed by the launch at the end of August.”

Behind the scenes

A team of five people is responsible for the content that goes onto the platform. This is made up of four part-time employees, two each from the HRSC and Unicef, while one permanent person keeps it updated on a daily basis.

The five have a collective range of qualifications or expertise from economics to child law and social work as well as information technology.

Asked if the project encourages students in these disciplines to seek internship opportunities with them, Viviers said that although that is not the case at this stage, there is no saying for sure that things will not be different in the future.

“As Pan: Children grows over the next planned phases, there might be possibilities for interns.”

More than just an info hub

Pan: Children has another purpose apart from being a mere information resource. The project’s drivers see it as a way to educate researchers, lawmakers and the global civil society movement on South Africa’s efforts to address inequality.

Successes in the legal and socio-economic areas of the country’s development in its 18 years of democracy are shared on the portal. One of the highlights of the 2010 Unicef meeting was the progress made in policies geared towards the emancipation of children.

Participants cited successes such as the child grants system, which reaches over 10-million poor children on a monthly basis, as examples. The move to introduce the non-fee school system for pupils from poor families – established to address the problem of low enrolment numbers at foundation phase, especially in the more rural areas – also received attention. A third child-friendly policy, adopted by the government’s health sector, provides for free primary healthcare for pregnant women and children up to the age of six years.

Also noted, however, were the challenges that remain in South Africa for the protection of children’s rights and equity, such as poverty, which is caused by a multitude of factors. Another is the continuously high unemployment rate among young people between the ages of 18 and 24.

It is under these circumstances that Pan: Children aims to give practical insight into how best to design, implement and evaluate policies that address child poverty and inequities. It will also be helpful for advice on how to best tackle bottlenecks in governing systems.

Pan: Children and its users

With ten different themes to choose from, ranging from child poverty and equality to early childhood development, food and nutrition and the social protection for children, the portal caters for users from a diversity of backgrounds.

Each theme hosts documents for reference purposes, varying from policy records to reports from conferences and meetings of both local and international importance.

In addition to the content on site, registered users are able to obtain an account, which allows them to add content for editing by the Pan: Children team.

This user-generated content can be uploaded under any one of six sections, namely news; debate; events; opportunity; resource and web links.

The portal sends out a newsletter every second month – titled From Evidence to Action, it compiles all the key content since the last edition for users.

Pan: Children does not, at this point, have social media as part of its offering. Viviers said, however, that the door is not completely closed to expanding the portal in that direction.

“Pan: Children’s primary focus is on key evidence-based policy questions in the advancement of child rights and equity in South Africa,” he explained. “The possibilities of social networking are being explored.”

Asked whether the addition of this type of element is important to draw a younger audience, Viviers stated that younger internet users – who are primary users of social network sites as well – are not being targeted by the portal.

“However, we recognise that children have a right to access information and can play an important role in the policy discourse regarding the fulfilment of their rights,” he said.

Thus, he added, this will receive attention as the portal evolves, but also in policy dialogues that will take place as a part of Pan: Children.