Author: Samantha

The Children of South Africa

The Children of South Africa

This 2-year-old is unable to walk. He’s one of 6 million on the brink of starvation.

As of this month, the number of undernourished children worldwide stands at 828 million, according to researchers from the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the UN Population Division. That’s about 14 times higher than before the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemics in the 1980s.

When I first visited this part of South Africa a decade ago, I went to see the Soweto township. It was just south of Johannesburg, on the road to the port of East London. There were about 300 young children, most of them under seven years old. They had spent the day in a makeshift school. They were sitting on the floor, their legs tied together with thin ropes for them to move around. One of them was wearing a blue top. I asked a volunteer whether she could guess who it was. “I really couldn’t,” she said. “I don’t remember.” But as we moved past the children, I saw that a mother was holding a large, pink-and-white baby in her arms, which her children had placed on her lap. Her child was thin.

“I don’t remember,” she repeated. “I really couldn’t. I don’t remember.” I didn’t buy it. So I got back in the car and drove south to the rural township of Gugulethu and the rural township of Mabulu, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. They were in a different sort of limbo—that of an underdeveloped, post-apocalyptic world.

All around them was poverty: hunger, malnutrition, disease. Most of the children there were black. Of the 6 million with the HIV virus, about 730,000 are women, as are 626,000 children under the age of five. The number of HIV infections among pregnant women topped one million in 1998.

Most of South Africa’s children live in rural areas where the government doesn’t make provisions for feeding them, let alone educating them.

“The problem is that the government has failed to establish child friendly institutions in the

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