Author/s: Katharine HallDate: March 2022
This indicator shows the number and share of children living in formal, informal and traditional housing. For the purposes of the indicator, “formal” housing is considered a proxy for adequate housing and consists of: dwellings or brick structures on separate stands; flats or apartments; town/cluster/semi-detached houses; units in retirement villages; rooms or flatlets on larger properties provided they are built with sturdy materials. “Informal” housing consists of: informal dwellings or shacks in backyards or informal settlements; dwellings or houses/flats/rooms in backyards built of iron, wood or other non-durable materials; and caravans or tents. “Traditional” housing is defined as a “traditional dwelling/hut/structure made of traditional materials” situated in a rural area.
Children’s right to adequate housing means that they should not have to live in informal dwellings. One of the seven elements of adequate housing identified by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is that it must be “habitable”. To be habitable, houses should have enough space to prevent overcrowding, and should be built in a way that ensures physical safety and protection from the weather.
Formal brick houses that meet the state’s standards for quality housing could be considered “habitable housing”, whereas informal dwellings such as shacks in informal settlements and backyards would not be considered habitable or adequate. Informal housing in backyards and informal settlements make up the bulk of the housing backlog in South Africa. “Traditional” housing in rural areas cannot necessarily be assumed to be inadequate. Some traditional dwellings are more habitable than new subsidy houses – they can be more spacious and better insulated, for example.
Access to services is another element of “adequate housing”. Children living in formal areas are more likely to have services on site than those living in informal or traditional dwellings. They are also more likely to live closer to facilities like schools, libraries, clinics and hospitals than those living in informal settlements or rural areas. Children living in informal settlements are more exposed to hazards such as shack fires and paraffin poisoning.
The environmental hazards associated with informal housing are exacerbated for very young children. The distribution of children in informal dwellings is slightly skewed towards younger children and babies: 42% of children in informal housing are in the 0 – 5-year age group.
In 2018, nearly 1.7 million children (9%) in South Africa lived in backyard dwellings or shacks in informal settlements. The number of children in informal housing has declined slightly from 2.3 million (13%) in 2002. The provinces with the highest shares of informally-housed children are the Western Cape (with 17% of children in that province informally housed), Gauteng (14%), North West and Free State (each with 13% of children living in informal housing). The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have by far the largest shares of children living in traditional dwellings (30% and 19% respectively).
The distribution of children in formal, informal and traditional housing has remained fairly constant since 2002. But racial inequalities persist. Almost all White children (99%) live in formal housing, compared with only 81% of African children. Access to formal housing increases with income. Ninety-five percent of children in the wealthiest 20% of households live in formal dwellings, compared with 77% of children in the poorest quintile.
The GHS instructs the fieldworker to record dwelling type for the main dwelling as well as any other dwelling that belongs to the household but is situated elsewhere. Only the main dwelling type is used in this indicator.