South Africa: The impact of water service delivery on children's livelihoods, especially on their school attendance and performance

This study was carried-out by the IPEC's project "Towards the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour" - Phase II (TECL II) in South Africa. The main objective of this study was to assess the impact of the delivery of water services on the lives of children with special attention to educational achievement and attendance. The study sought to answer the following key questions: (i) Have there have been any changes in water service delivery in the past five years in the pilot sites?; (ii) Have improved water access and water delivery services had an impact on key constitutional rights of the children?; (iii) Has there been a change in the amount of work and time spent by children fetching water and how this has impacted on their other household chores and time for leisure and play?; (iv) What has been the overall impact of improved water service delivery on the livelihoods of families and households?, and (v) What progress, institutional changes and plans have the Municipalities and/or Water Service Authorities made since 2005 in terms of improving capacity to prioritize water service delivery as well as the mainstreaming child labour issues?

The approach adopted for the study was the rights based approach which looked at a whole range of children's rights and impact on children's livelihoods. The context in which children live was taken into consideration so as to obtain a comprehensive picture of how water delivery affects or is influenced by the other critical factors in their lives. The study was qualitative in nature. It was supported with a literature review as well as in-depth and focus group discussions with a range of stakeholders, including children, parents, teachers, community leaders, municipality and other government officials. These methods were supplemented with direct observations and environmental scan.

Key findings related to the key questions indicated that:
  • One out of four sites assessed (Sunduza), had experienced a marked improvement in access to clean and safe water. As a result of improved water service delivery, children in this area were no longer spending most of their time fetching water. The pendulum had shifted, with adults taking more responsibility for fetching, and maintaining the service. In this community there was more ownership of water service delivery. Different stakeholders, including children themselves also reported more positive changes in their lives and outlook towards life.
  • In the above community a child-focused approach to water delivery was evident. This was achieved by the municipality installing communal water pumps closer to households, along the roads used by children on a regular basis as well as installing them in schools. Children's safety was also a consideration.
  • Access to clean and safe water was found to be a critical challenge in two areas (Thoto and Ngolotshe). In both these areas maintenance of boreholes was an issue. Both the quality and quantity of safe water in three out of four areas were perceived to be a challenge. Children in these areas still spent a significant amount of time fetching water in highly unsafe conditions. In one of these areas there was evidence of a strong link between lack of access to safe water and school dropout as well as poor school performance.
  • Two out of four areas (Sunduza and Malokela) were reported to be adhering to a large extent to required national standards of ensuring that water was available within 200m of households.
  • In three out of four areas (Ngolotshe, Thotho and Malokela) sustainability was an issue. There did not seem to be any clear sustainability plan and community involvement in planning and maintenance of services.
  • Generally, children in the majority of areas assessed are still carrying a lot of responsibility for water fetching as well as a host of other household chores. These are competing with education. In addition, the conditions under which they fetch water are unsafe and pose real physical dangers to them.
  • Overall, it was agreed by all stakeholders that water fetching activities of children in three out of four areas constitute child labour.
Recommendations from the study include:
  • Improvement in child-focused and driven planning at municipality level that prioritize the needs and safety of children.
  • A national plan to address access to water by all children in deep rural areas should be drawn with the involvement of National role]players such as Department of Water Affairs (DWA), Social Development, National Treasury, Agriculture, Education, Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities and other government departments and international role-players.
  • Establish partnerships with the public and business sector to address the emergency needs of water service delivery to children and household level. An emergency plan should be developed to address immediate emergency needs.
  • Emergency solutions include: provision of mobile water services on a regular bases to all schools with water shortages and to household level.
  • An advocacy campaign to lobby municipalities to recognise children as one of the most vulnerable groups requiring dedicated resources should be undertaken.
  • Women in rural areas do not seem to be tapped enough as a resource in addressing the needs of children and the community. The majority of women are heading households in rural areas and yet they do not seem to be involved in driving development efforts. Water-wise and environmental sustainability programmes must involve women.
  • Undertake community-wide and nation-wide advocacy and awareness campaigns on the hazardous nature of certain household chores particularly that of water collection by children especially in rural areas.