Vulnerable children bore the brunt of disrupted school nutrition programmes

The South African state has recognised the effects of childhood poverty and since the early democratic era has invested in the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) as a mechanism to alleviate the hunger that many children face.

The NSNP feeds over 9 million children each school day and the programme is intended to meet 30-40% of a child’s recommended dietary allowance per day. Over the last years the NSNP has partnered with a range of public and private organisations to expand their in-school nutrition offerings and in many schools an additional breakfast is now also provided. Together, these are crucial poverty alleviation policy interventions (Devereux et al; 2018).

However, these in-school nutrition programmes were significantly disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NSNP stopped altogether for a significant period when schools had to be closed. And despite a court order for the programme to continue in spite of school closures, the programme faced logistical and service delivery difficulties (Mohohlwane & Shepherd, 2021).

Enhanced health and safety protocols placed additional burdens on volunteer food handlers and many schools struggled to procure the required foods. These challenges resulted in children receiving fewer meals and nutrients through in-school nutrition.

This Voice of the Child study, to be conducted in partnership with the Tigerbrands Foundation, seeks to understand, from the perspective of children, how they were affected by the shifts in in-school nutrition programmes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The voices of children play an important role in advocacy surrounding the importance of in-school nutrition programmes and how crucial it is to keep investing in running such programmes.

The objectives aligned to these aims are to:

  1. Profile how children were affected by these changes, with particular reference to their learning, energy, physical and emotional well-being.
  2. Understand, from the perspective of children, how they and their families coped during these periods.
  3. Make recommendations regarding the importance of in-school nutrition and building the resilience of such programmes to better attend to children’s needs.

Following this and based on the results from the study, a strategy to improve children’s access to healthy diets may be developed especially for those provinces found to have higher rates of malnutrition.

School Nutrition

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