Africa: Don’t be a question mark in your child’s life!

Date: June 17, 2012
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Johannesburg 17 June – Where is my father, mummy? A rare question from an untypical child? Not these days! It seems that more and more of our children need an urgent answer to this question from their male parents. The annual celebration of Father’s Day that follows after the Day of the African Child (June 16th) brings more dilemmas than answers to this pertinent question.

Worryingly the answer from mum is often ‘I simply do not know, my child’.

For whatever reasons men are disappearing from their children’s lives at an unprecedented rate. According to a 2011 South African Institute of Race Relations research, The First Step’s to Healing the South African Family, nine million children in the country grow up with absent fathers.

Bertus Preller, a Divorce Attorney in South Africa writes that “in 2011 the Western Cape Department of Justice and Constitutional Development released a list of 7 084 fathers across the Western Cape who were in arrears with their maintenance payments. The fathers collectively owed close to R16 million to their children in maintenance, with one father owing more than R200 000.”

These statistics are worrying. After all there is an assumption that as women do most of the childrearing, they can provide a safe and loving environment of care for our children. Well, this may be true up to a point but how do single mothers cope without essential child maintenance support from absent fathers? We can presume that many of these children feel rejected and unworthy by the lack of father love and emotional support – how will they grow up with these massive blows to their sense of self-esteem and self-worth?

Father’s Day this year for many children will, it seems, be another hole in their lives. Some will shrug it off but many others will endure a lot of pain and loneliness. Many men in Africa are not even registered on the birth certificates of their children making it hard to estimate the true extent of the ‘fatherhood deficiency’.

In 2011, African Fathers Initiative (AFI) conducted research with young children on what they want from fathers. Most don’t worry about money or material things – they just want dad to be there and spend time with them – whether married to their mum or not.

Kudzai Makombe, a gender activist says, “The contribution of cash and care to children from both parents in low income families and after separation is an important element in tackling child poverty – but it’s not just about the cash. If the child loses contact with the father it also loses all the social capital and networks that the father has available to help the child develop. These include paternal grandparents and other relatives, friends, workmates, social and education contacts. The value of these is inestimable.”

Global evidence shows that girls who grow up without active fathers in their lives suffer more from personal violence and predication from ‘sugar-daddies’. Boys are more likely to be driven to a life of crime, drug abuse and violence.
Whatever its other successes, a society in which large numbers of males fail to nurture their children is a failing society.

This is not to say that all fathers have not played a role in their children’s lives. Too rarely do we hear of the stories of positive role models and testimonials from children who say that without dad, life would not be the same. Maybe by hearing more about them, we can inspire even more men to take this all important job to heart.

We have an Africa wide plan of action on the family that is being ignored. African governments need to develop a legal and cultural expectation of substantial involvement of all fathers with their children from the earliest stages. They need to take steps to make it easier for fathers to participate in the care and education of their children.

For example, governments should put in place systems to ensure that fathers become more responsible and when they are absent, they provide all the necessary support.

This year, AFI says ‘Don’t be a question mark in your child’s life!’ Register as the father of your child. This is the first foundation in acknowledging your child, providing care and support – whatever your relationship with the mother – and supporting your child’s rights to have both parents engaged in its life.

As President Obama is often quoted, “any fool can make a baby in five minutes, but it takes a man to be a dad!”

Trevor Davies is the Director of African Fathers Initiative. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on Father’s Day, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


0 thoughts on “Africa: Don’t be a question mark in your child’s life!”

tebello mahase says:

this is the sad truth! some of us grew up without fathers. this seems to be getting worse! in this generation there are more kids without fathers, even in caces where the father stays in the same house with the kids. what of the next generation

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