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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


GROBBELAAR, Jan  y  JONES, Chris. The vulnerability of children in the context of South African households and families. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.4-2, pp.1187-1203. ISSN 2224-7912.

In this article, we discuss the vulnerability of many children living in South Africa, with the aim of promoting critical insight into the daily living conditions of so many vulnerable children in South Africa. The article begins by briefly referring to the social and political contexts that threaten the lives of children. It then focuses more specifically on households and family structures and how we should think about these complex, intertwined and at times difficult to differentiate concepts. What is clear is that South Africa's children grow up in households with diverse family structures resulting in diverse living arrangements. Following is a brief discussion of present and absent parents, which shows that South Africa is unique in the extent to which parents, especially fathers, are absent in the daily activities of their children. This is partly the effect of the fact that in Africa the child bearer is not always also the child carer. It furthermore seems that the unique history and circumstances of the South African society, hugely influenced by the system of migrant labour, played a significant role in the fragmentation of families resulting in these different living arrangements. This situation, so it seems, did not change much in the post-apartheid era. Although the political system changed, its effects over many decades will probably be with us, influencing the living arrangements for children, for many years to come. The important role that the family plays in raising children is also highlighted. In the partial or total absence of parents, relatives play a significant role in the care of children of the extendedfamily. In this regard many grandparents take on several responsibilities to complement the parental care their children provide for their grandchildren. In some cases, grandparents do not only complement the parental care, but more and more they are actually taking over the role and duties of the parents and become the primary caregivers of their grandchildren. The living arrangements of many households are also affected by the familiar trend of adolescents migrating within South Africa to gain access to new opportunities. Quite a number of them migrate independently. Although these movements can have positive results, adolescents can in the process also be exposed to certain vulnerabilities that may affect their lives negatively. In addition to this, many parents who migrate leave their children "behind" when they relocate. The spotlight also falls on orphaned children. The situation of all orphans is not the same and the quality of care they receive varies tremendously. The term "orphan" is also used to refer to children in different contexts. Although the number of orphans in South Africa is decreasing, orphanhood, in whichever form, still affects the wellbeing of a substantial number of children, which poses major challenges to the South African society. In the South African context, we also have to deal with households that consist of children only. In these households a minor is the head of the household fulfilling the role of a primary caregiver for all the other members of the household, being responsible for decision-making and the provision of all their basic physical, social and emotional needs. This concept indicates a new form of family structure, which differs considerably from the nuclear, two-generational family of the Western world, as well as the extended, multigenerational family of the African context. While not all the children in child-only-households are double orphans, the situation of all these children are still a cause for concern. They are prone to many challenges, even risks. Furthermore, the child-heads of these households also experience the ambivalence of fulfilling the roles of adults while they are still viewed and treated by the adult world as children. Part of this problem is that some young people experience hostile surveillance from adults. This surveillance is particularly gendered, with girls positioned as "whores" and boys as "thugs". Finally, the very important issue of housing and basic services comes to the fore, and the great inequality in our country, as reflected in the access or lack of basic services, is highlighted. A factor that plays a crucial role in the living arrangements of every household, and thus in the lives of children, is their access to adequate housing and basic services. It is one of the most basic needs of all people: To have an adequate place to live. The housing situation of children in South Africa showcases the racial inequalities that persist in our society. Housing can only be adequate if it is not overcrowded. Adequate housing also includes the effective delivery of basic services such as clean drinking water on-site and basic sanitation in all homes. The data provided illustrates that we still have a long way to go in providing adequate housing for children in South Africa. Indeed, many South African children experience inhospitable households which make them vulnerable in many ways. These circumstances may create in them feelings of abandonment and of not being welcome in this world.

Palabras clave : vulnerability; children; household; family; present and absent parents; grandparents; migration; orphans; child-only-households; housing; basic services.

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