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Is South Africa Child Grant Contributing to Africa’s Baby Boom?

FILE - Gwakwanele, born to mother Nozipho Goqo, at Johannesburg's government hospital.

With a population that has already passed the 50 million mark and a sustained unemployment rate of more than 25 percent, attention is being focused on South Africa’s child grant incentives for single mothers which may be encouraging young women to bear children to get an income.

Simpiwe Gwebu, 25, already has two children. Her first-born is only two years old, the younger two months. The unemployed young mother from Johannesburg’s Soweto township said the two babies are her source of income.

She was only 22 when poverty and lack of job opportunities stretched her frustration to the limit. She decided to have babies so that she could get the government child support grant for her upkeep.

But after her first child, Gwebu said, she discovered that the grant, currently around $30 per child per month, is not enough.

Doubles the amount

She then decided to double this amount by having her second baby.

“The more babies I get, the more money I get, and every year it goes up. There is no employment. You can’t find a job and getting a grant is much easier than going around and looking for money. You are sure of that money, that every month there is money that is in your account,” said Gwebu.

Another Soweto young mother, Jabulile Mguni, also has two children at the age of 24. Mguni does not openly admit that her children were born for survival, but she does acknowledge her life is also fully depended on the child support grant.

“I can’t really depend on someone else because this money is there. It’s compulsory. I will get it and thanks to the government for the grant because some of us are depending on it. It is important; we need it,” said Mguni.

These two are among many young women and teens who could be giving birth for wrong reasons and adding to the burden of South Africa’s growing population - currently at 52 million.

Government statistics show that just over half a million children were born in South Africa in 1991. After the child support grant was introduced in 1998, births doubled to more than a million children born every year with 1.2 million born in 2011 alone.

Population growth worrisome

This baby boom has some worried that the population is growing too fast for a country already struggling with unemployment, poverty and inequality.

The government coffers are already over-stretched with providing free basic health care, the world’s largest anti-retroviral program to tackle the AIDS epidemic here and subsided housing and utilities to millions.

But the child grant does accomplish the basic goal of the program.

Joint UN and South African studies show this country has created one of the most comprehensive social protection systems in the developing world and the child support grant is a key element.

While the grants are used to buy food and other necessities for the whole household, studies suggest children do benefit overall.

To qualify for the grant one has to prove they have no source of income. In 2008, just over 8 million children below 17 years were getting the support grant, but this number increased to 11 million in 2014.

'Government is oppressing us'

But not everyone is a fan. Rochelle Pimentel is the founder of LOVE 167, a gender advocacy group. She warns the child support grant could be communicating an unintended message to some desperate women.

“They are saying to her if you get pregnant, you will get 200 rands and our women and children are so abused emotionally, physically, mentally that they actually believe that the 200 rands suffices for a child for a lifetime because our own government is oppressing us,” said Pimentel.

Pimentel is pushing for programs that reduce government dependency - such as education grants for young women to develop employable skills or small business loans will empower young women to make better choices for themselves - including when and how many children to have.

Pimentel and other advocates says it is only then that women can give their children a brighter future in an increasingly competitive environment - sparked by Africa’s baby boom.