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Monitoring child well-being: A South African rights-based approach

Editors: Andrew Dawes, Rachel Bray & Amelia van der Merwe

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)


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Since the 1980s, systems for monitoring the situation of children have emerged in countries with very different economic and political profiles. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC - see Appendix 1 in this volume), adopted in 1989, provided a major stimulus. Rights-based monitoring inspired by the CRC has been pioneered in a number of developing countries through partnerships between state actors and international agencies (particularly the United Nations Children's Fund [UNICEF], the Save the Children Alliance, and Childwatch International). The motivation behind such initiatives stems from the requirement placed on all signatory countries to the CRC to measure progress towards fulfilling children's rights and to report to the UN Committee every five years (Miljeteig, 1997). UNICEF has also played a key role and the State of the World's Children reports provide a range of internationally comparative indicators on the situation of children and the extent to which their rights are supported or violated (e.g. UNICEF, 2005c).

Other recent initiatives include monitoring for reporting on achievements in relation to the UN Millennium Development Goals and the goals of the New Programme for African Development (see Chapter 2 in this volume), as well as the development of a European Union (EU) system for monitoring children's well-being and well-becoming that draws on the CRC (Bradshawet al., 2005).

Apart from the use of the CRC to hold governments to account on the situation of their children, at a country level, monitoring initiatives seek to provide data to influence policy development. Without good data on the well-being of children and the quality of their developmental contexts, decision-makers do not have the necessary information for policy implementation and targeted resource allocation. Monitoring enhances our understanding of the links between macroeconomic processes, poverty reduction strategies, investments in improving children's lives and the achievement of broader development and equity goals.

It is well known that investment in child health and capacities (particularly in early childhood) is an investment in the production of human capital and the future wellbeing of the nation as a whole (Heckman & Forum, 1999). Thus, apart from its importance in describing their current well-being, monitoring is an essential way of tracking the outcomes of our investment in children's development, pointing to areas of deficiency and success, and identifying the conditions that are associated with each.

This chapter, together with the next, lays the foundation for the volume. It has two main components. First, a brief history of attempts to establish a child well-being monitoring system for South Africa is outlined. Thereafter, the conceptual foundations that underpin child well-being and rights monitoring systems are reviewed.

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