June is a special month for our country as we celebrate 66% of South Africa's population, the youth. As a big part of the population, young people are at the heart of the future of South Africa. While South Africa’s history was driven by young people through the Soweto Uprising in 1976, more recently young people are facing many challenges in modern day society.
Unemployment and poor education are well known challenges many youths of today are faced with. However, this Youth Month I would like to bring awareness to another, lesser-known, challenge and problem plaguing the youth of South Africa - child abandonment and neglect.
According to a fact sheet titled “Child Abandonment Research in South Africa” compiled by Dee Blackie, there were 18.5 million children (aged 0 to 17 years) in South Africa as of May 2014. Of this figure, 4.5 million children live with neither their mother nor father and are being raised by a third party. A further 5.2 million children are orphans. This figure is likely to have increased by around 10% annually, which calculates to approximately 6 million orphans as of 2017. These children are likely to experience abandonment and neglect and, as a result, develop “poor attachment”.
Attachment can be defined as the meaningful connection that is shared between a child and caregiver and has a profound effect on the child's development, ability to express emotions and develop relationships.
A child is likely to develop ‘poor attachment’ if they feel repeatedly abandoned, isolated, powerless or uncared for. A child with insecure or poor attachment may experience various developmental issues. This includes, among other things, difficulty connecting to others and managing their own emotions, a lack of the skills needed to build meaningful relationships and an overall feeling of insecurity and loneliness.
From the above figures, close to 11 million children experience some form of abandonment and subsequently, poor attachment and the negative effects thereof. In addition, there is a higher chance of these children developing some form of psychiatric, cognitive or learning disability. There is evidence of this when looking at the statistics regarding disability in South Africa. More than 80% of people living with disabilities have acquired their disability versus the 20% that are born with a disability.
So, what does this mean for the future of South Africa? In short, the majority of the future workforce will be made up of individuals who have experienced abandonment and poor attachment and, as a result, could potentially have acquired a disability. Currently people with disabilities make up 10% of the South African population. Taking the above facts and figures into consideration, this percentage is guaranteed to rise over the next few years.
As more and more of the youth enter the workplace, corporates need to be prepared and equipped, both with the knowledge and materials, to accommodate these individuals.
In addition, the dismal matric pass rate of people with disabilities needs to be addressed. According to Progression’s internal statistics, a mere 5% of people with disabilities have a matric. Unfortunately, it can no longer be left solely to government to assist and support these individuals to get through their schooling career. Corporates need to share this responsibility in order to combat unemployment and poverty in South Africa and ensure that the future workforce is competent and capable. This can be done through a number of community initiatives, such as early childhood development programmes. Furthermore, corporates should not wait until individuals are at workplace or even tertiary level, but rather start identifying individuals at high school level. Once identified, organisations can then groom, guide and coach these individuals as well as offer them vital work experience. Not only will this assist students in completing their matric, but will also allow them to enter the workplace equipped and empowered with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed.
In a country that all too often dwells on the past, what we really need to be focusing on is the future.