Call for school feeding scheme to continue under lockdown

A girl receives a meal at her school on the first day of the Western Cape education department's Covid-19 feeding scheme on April 8 2020. A call has been made for the basic education department to revive the feeding scheme that provides meals to nine million school children. The scheme has not been operating since the closure of schools during lockdown.
A girl receives a meal at her school on the first day of the Western Cape education department's Covid-19 feeding scheme on April 8 2020. A call has been made for the basic education department to revive the feeding scheme that provides meals to nine million school children. The scheme has not been operating since the closure of schools during lockdown.
Image: Facebook/Alan Winde

Activists and education and children’s rights organisations have called for basic education minister Angie Motshekga to revive the school feeding scheme as lockdown regulations affect the welfare of millions of children who rely on these meals.

Equal Education, the Equal Education Law Centre, The Children’s Institute, Section 27 and the Centre for Child Law wrote an open letter to Motshekga asking that schools - closed under the lockdown - be permitted to serve as collection points for food packages or pick-up-and-go meals tailored for beneficiaries of the feeding scheme.

The organisations said the department's response to concerns about access to meals was "disappointing", considering the crucial role played by school meals in the wellbeing and development of children.

“With the president announcing the extension of the lockdown until the end of April, a pressing need is ensuring that learners have continued access to critical nutrition provisioning. Nine-million children ordinarily benefit from the scheme. For many of these learners, the meal received at schools is often the only meal in the day,” the letter read.

Hunger and malnutrition were raised as serious concerns, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, as both resulted in compromised levels of immunity.

“It is, therefore, necessary to put in place clear and co-ordinated interventions which ensure children continue to receive the benefit of school meals. The [department] must play a central role in this, and cannot defer its responsibilities to other departments indefinitely,” said the letter.

The organisations raised concerns about food distribution centres not being adequately accessible to those in need, particularly in rural areas.

“It is also unclear what safety measures are being put in place to protect children who may be in a position of having to collect food parcels themselves.”

The letter recommended that district level co-ordination be implemented to enable pupils not living in the same area as their closest schools to be able to access food packages or meals.

“In circumstances where school-based feeding programmes are not possible, the use of food voucher systems should be considered, provided vouchers are redeemable at all local outlets [including spaza shops],” read the letter.

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