Plenary discussion: Children, the Right to Food and the double/triple-burden of malnutrition in South Africa
byANH Academy
Academy Week Research Conference
| Food Environments, Food Systems, Gender and Equity, Nutrition, Social Sciences
Date and Time
From: 29 June 2022, 16:35
To: 29 June 2022, 16:35
BST British Summer Time GMT+1:00
Country: South Africa
Street: Lanzerac Hotel
Open Full Event ANH2022 RC Plenary Right to food graphic


With eight years remaining in the pursuit of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), it is time for renewed action on ending child hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, everywhere in the world. However, the global crises caused by the pandemic of COVID-19, since early 2020, have compromised the world’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For food systems, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ongoing measures to contain it, have revealed a stark divide between those who have access to adequate, nutritious, affordable diets and essential nutrition services and those who do not. Looking at the South African experience in particular, experts warned early-on that the lockdown instituted to manage the spread of the pandemic would threaten children’s food and nutrition security the most. Launched at the height of the pandemic’s lockdown, the 2020 South African Child Gauge report, focusing on nutrition and food in/security, reminds us that despite South Africa being classified as an upper middle-income country, high stunting rates, micronutrient deficiencies, and overnutrition in the form of overweight and obesity in children are prevalent and getting worse. The authors describe the invisible, cumulative and devastating effects of chronic malnutrition as a form of “slow violence”, stressing that poor nutrition stunts children’s growth and hollows out their life chances.

Pointedly, children are a vulnerable segment of the population, often with no control whatsoever over how they are situated. They are largely reliant on others to secure food for them. As such, in instances where their right to food and nutrition is compromised, children are often the most at risk for not being able to access adequate food. The ramifications of this are compounded by the fact that if children cannot access adequate food and nutrition, this diminishes the chance of their being able to “unlock” other fundamental rights and freedoms such as education and increases the chance of their being caught in poverty and unemployment as adults. The right to access sufficient food and basic nutrition as codified in the South African constitution can thus be described as “central and facilitative” in nature, as well as “interdependent and interrelated” to other rights, especially in the case of the child.

This special ANH2022 session will delve deep into the obligation to ensure the realisation of the right to access sufficient food and basic nutrition in South Africa for children.

Since this obligation is “disaggregated” in nature, it becomes difficult to conceptualise and to give content to. This makes the realisation of this particular socioeconomic right difficult both to monitor and to enforce. Moreover, the fact that the South African Courts have yet to pronounce on the content of the law surrounding the right to food and nutrition in the broader sense, means that there is currently a lack of legal certainty as to what children and their caregivers can expect from the government as the principal duty-bearer of the right to food. In order to unpack and understand these issues better, a comprehensive discussion of the status quo is required that will lay the groundwork for interventions that go beyond the usual rights-speak rhetoric and into action. This forms the rationale for our panel discussion.


Legal and Policy Framework

Section 27 (1)(b) of South African Constitution, states that “everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food”. Besides extending this right to everyone, the Constitution gives children additional protection in Section 28 (1)(c) by providing that “every child has the right to basic nutrition”. Augmenting and supporting this explicit constitutional promise, are rights such as equality, human dignity, life and freedom and security of the person and to health in sections 9, 10, 11, 12 and 27 respectively. Finally, section 28 (1)(b), (d) and (e) and 28(2) of the Constitution also provide that every child has the right to care, to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation and that the “best interests of the child are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”

However, the Constitution of a state ought never to be examined in isolation. In establishing the content ascribed to a right, it is important to evaluate the legal and policy landscapes holistically - especially when the realization of the right warrants the involvement of various parties. This is particularly true where a country relies on somewhat of a piecemeal strategy in the realization of a particular right. Indeed, in South Africa, there is neither a dedicated piece of legislation nor credible national strategy, which encapsulates the full ambit of the right to food and nutrition. Granted, a vast proliferation of statutes and policy documents canvass the right of the child to food and basic nutrition but as alluded-to above, despite these interventions, the rates of child hunger and malnutrition remain unacceptably high in the country. This means that deficits clearly exist - either in policy, or implementation, or both. In order to facilitate systemic change geared towards the fulfillment of the right to food and nutrition, it is important to clearly define disparities in structure or implementation of law and/or policy.


Panel discussion objectives

  1. To examine the interplay between different duty-bearers responsible for the realization of the right of the child to food and basic nutrition. These include:;

                    - Parents and other caregivers

                    - Various government departments

                    - Non-Governmental Organisations/ Social movements

  1. To examine the evolving requirements for the realization of the right to food and nutrition according to the age and stage of development of the child;
  1. To delineate the fundamental challenges in the fulfilment of the right to food and basic nutrition and to safeguard children from the corporate power prevalent in the food value chain.


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It is great to see the right to food being highlighted again today in this Plenary. A key issue is what framework do we have to monitor if the right to food is being met and who is accountable.
1Malnutrition is a clear biological marker that the right to food is not being met

2International human rights treaties such as the Covenant outline that accountability rests with not just national governments but the international community when national governments do not have the resources. this is evident with the chronic underfunding by the international community of Humanitarian Response Plans

Pat Mc Mahon

29 Jun 2022
Congratulations. Children's right to food is an important policy as children are unable to advocate their needs

Chris Umezuruike

29 Jun 2022
Congratulations. Children's right to food is an important policy as children are unable to advocate their needs

Chris Umezuruike

29 Jun 2022
Congratulations. Children's right to food is an important policy as children are unable to advocate their needs

Chris Umezuruike

29 Jun 2022
The poetry duo was superb - can you share a link to them?

Stacia Nordin

30 Jun 2022
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