Fathers must be responsible

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Health Spokesman

Earlier this month a woman claimed that her twins had been stolen after she gave birth at the George Mukhari Hospital northwest of Pretoria.

Her family alerted the media and there was a furore as police and the hospital tried to verify the story.

It turned out to be a hoax by the 37-year-old mother because the 23-year-old unemployed father was completely uninterested in his children.

She was angry and wanted him to take responsibility for them. But when she told him the babies had been stolen and could be killed, he said if they were dead, it would not be a problem.

It’s a tragic story that highlights the plight of women left to bring up children without a father.

Children are a precious gift, but many men abandon them with little conscience.

According to the SA Institute of Race Relations, only 33% of children in South Africa live with both their parents.

The rest live with single parents, on their own, with relatives, or in foster care. About 39% of children live with their mothers only and 4% live with their fathers only.

The causes are many and varied, including dislocations under apartheid, and the ravages of HIV/Aids.

It is disturbing that the proportion of children with absent living fathers has gone up from 42% in 1996 to 48% in 2009.

Research shows that children without fathers are more likely to suffer emotional and social problems.

They are less likely to succeed in school, and boys are particularly prone to violence, drugs, alcohol and a life of crime.

Girls are more likely to fall pregnant as teenagers, and their children are also likely to become teenage mothers.

It’s a bad cycle that needs to be broken. Government can help with good schooling and enabling job-creating growth, but a broader societal change is needed.

I am not sure that the prevailing trend to diminish stigma in this matter is the answer.

Pregnancy at school used to be a great shame, and expulsion was routine. This was rough on the individual, but it kept teenage pregnancies down overall.

In some American schools, day care is even provided for pupils’ children. This surely does not encourage restraint.

The “anything goes” attitude has bad social effects that hit women and children particularly hard. By contrast, a “tough love” policy has much to recommend it.

The key is personal responsibility, especially for men. The family is the best place to learn habits of self-restraint, and religious institutions assist as well.

Government can assist by cracking down on men who don’t pay child maintenance.

The DA has pushed for the Gauteng provincial government to follow the Western Cape in working with police and the courts to enforce maintenance laws.

The Western Cape had a successful name and shame campaign against maintenance defaulters, but the Justice Department now refuses to provide the names.

We all need to work together to ensure that social pressure encourages the personal responsibility that is presently lacking.