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23% of children in South Africa affected by food poverty, says UNICEF

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A recent report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that 23% of children in South Africa live in severe child food poverty, putting them at risk of life-threatening malnutrition and related health complications.

This staggering statistic makes South Africa one of 20 countries accounting for 65% of all children worldwide suffering from severe child food poverty.

The report, “Child Food Poverty: Nutrition Deprivation in Early Childhood,” analyzes the impacts and causes of dietary deprivation among young children in nearly 100 countries.

It highlights that millions of children under five are unable to access a nutritious and diverse diet, essential for optimal growth and development.

According to UNICEF South Africa Representative Christine Muhigana, “The consequences of severe child food poverty can last a lifetime.” Malnutrition can weaken immune systems, increase the risk of death from common childhood diseases, and impact brain development, leading to lifelong development challenges and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

The report identifies several factors contributing to the child food poverty crisis in South Africa and globally, including:

– Food systems that fail to provide nutritious options
– Families unable to afford healthy foods
– Parents’ inability to adopt positive child feeding practices

To address this crisis, UNICEF calls on governments, development organizations, donors, civil society, and the food industry to transform food systems, leverage health systems, finalize regulations on food labeling and advertising, and ensure eligible households receive the Child Support Grant.

The report highlights that nearly half of severe child food poverty cases occur in poor households, while 54% affect relatively wealthier households where poor food environments and feeding practices are the main drivers.

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UNICEF works in over 190 countries to build a better world for every child, everywhere. In South Africa, UNICEF is working to improve food systems, strengthen access to health and nutrition services, and support community-level interventions to break the cycle of malnutrition.


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