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UN: South African Children Make Progress in Health, Education


The United Nations Children's Fund says since the end of apartheid South Africa has made progress in improving the quality of life for its children. But poverty, AIDS and violence continue to threaten the future of many of them. UNICEF made the assessment in its annual report on South Africa as we hear from Correspondent Scott Bobb in Johannesburg.

UNICEF's senior official for South Africa, Macharia Kamau, says the lives of South African children in the past 13 years have significantly improved because of greater access to social services.

"The positive things have to do with the continued efforts that the country's making towards providing services for children in health," he said.

He notes that primary healthcare is free for children and pregnant women. Public schooling is also widely available and enrollment continues to rise.

But UNICEF's annual report also notes that two-thirds of South Africans still live on less than two dollars per day. And many of the poorest are not able to take advantage of government support because they live in remote areas or do not have the necessary documents.

Kamau says, in addition, the level of violence against women and children has reached alarming levels.

"Many children still suffer from abuse and neglect and other forms of violence. But the momentum to get the government to do more has increased over the last 12 months," he said.

He says more than 150,000 cases of violence against children were reported last year. And of the 55,000 rapes reported, 40 percent were of children under the age of 14 years.

UNICEF says 300,000 HIV-victims have gained access to life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs. But it says treatment programs are not keeping up with new cases.

It notes that 30 percent of the women who gave birth in South Africa last year were HIV-positive and 40 percent of the infant deaths were HIV-related.

The report predicts that if current trends continue, the number of AIDS orphans will nearly triple in eight years - to more than 5.7 million - and this will severely strain the recent gains in social services.