Author/s: Katharine Hall & Winnie SambuDate: November 2018
This indicator shows the number and proportion of children living in households where children were reported to go hungry “sometimes”, “often” or “always” because there wasn’t enough food.
Section 28(1)(c) of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution gives every child the right to basic nutrition. The fulfilment of this right depends on children's access to sufficient food. This indicator shows the number and proportion of children living in households where children are reported to go hungry “sometimes”, “often” or “always” because there isn’t enough food. Child hunger is emotive and subjective, and this is likely to undermine the reliability of estimates on the extent and frequency of reported hunger, but it is assumed that variation and reporting error will be reasonably consistent so that it is possible to monitor trends from year to year.
The government has introduced a number of programmes to alleviate income poverty and to reduce hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, yet 2.3 million children (12%) lived in households where child hunger was reported in 2017. There was a significant drop in reported child hunger, from 30% of children in 2002 to 16% in 2006. Since then the rate has remained fairly consistent, suggesting that despite the expansion of social grants, school feeding schemes and other efforts to combat hunger amongst children, many households remain vulnerable to food insecurity. South Africa therefore has some way to go if it is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending hunger by 2030.1
There are large disparities between provinces and population groups. Provinces with relatively large numbers of children and high rates of child hunger are the KwaZulu-Natal (18%), North West (16%), Free State (15%), Mpumalanga (14%), and the Western Cape (11%). Together these provinces have over 1.6 million children living in households that report having insufficient food for children. The Northern Cape has the highest percentage of children living in households where there was child hunger, though the province has the lowest child population in the country. The Eastern Cape has had the largest decrease between 2002 and 2017, with reported child hunger being reduced by 41 percentage points over the 16-year-period from 48% to 7%. Limpopo has a large rural child population with high rates of unemployment and income poverty, yet child hunger has remained well below the national average, reported at 3% in 2017.
Hunger, like income poverty and household unemployment, is most likely to be found among African children. In 2017, some 2.2 million African children lived in households that reported child hunger. This equates to 13% of the total African child population. Eight percent of Coloured children were reported to live in households where there was child hunger, while the hunger rates for Indian was 4% and White children below 1%.
Although social grants are targeted to the poorest households and are associated with improved nutritional outcomes, child hunger is still most prevalent in the poorest households: 19% of children in the poorest quintile go hungry sometimes, compared with less than 1% in the wealthiest quintile. The differences in child hunger rates across income quintiles are statistically significant.
There are no significant differences in reported child hunger across age groups. However, more than 820,000 children young than five years old are reported to have experienced child hunger, signalling a risk of under-nutrition. Young children are particularly vulnerable to prolonged lack of food, which increases their risk of stunting. Inadequate food intake compromises children’s growth, health and development, increases their risk of infection, and contributes to malnutrition.
It should be remembered that this is a household-level variable, and so reflects children living in households where children are reported to go hungry often or sometimes; it does not reflect the allocation of food within households. The indicator also doesn’t reflect the quality of food, including dietary diversity, which has been found to affect the nutritional status of children under five years.
The ‘hunger’ question in the General Household Survey provides notoriously weak data. Child hunger is emotive, subjective and estimates of frequency unreliable – particularly since the presence and frequency of ‘child hunger’ is reported by one adult in the household. It is assumed, however, that reporting error will be similar in each year of data collection, so that it is possible to report trends even if proportions for a single year are questionable. For this indicator the 5-point scale is collapsed into a dichotomous (yes/no) variable.