President Jacob Zuma has suggested that young mothers be separated from their babies. File photo: Antoine de Ras

Cape Town - Child psychologists, researchers and a teen moms support group have slammed President Jacob Zuma’s suggestion to have young mothers separated from their babies, calling it “ludicrous”, “uninformed” and “a recipe for disaster”.

On Wednesday, Cape Town psychologist Anel Annandale said Zuma’s suggestions, if ever implemented, would ruin the lives of the teenage moms.

Annandale works with children between the ages of two to 21, and has a passion for early childhood development.

She said: “Teen moms are more likely to suffer from post-natal depression because they have so much anxiety; on the one side they have to think about school and being isolated from their peers. Having them to think about possibly being removed from their babies would be devastating… it’s a recipe for disaster.”

While addressing the National House of Traditional Leaders, on Tuesday, Zuma said teen moms should be separated from their infants until they had completed their schooling.

This was the second time he had said this following his election campaign in 2009.

Zuma said: “They must be educated by government until they are empowered and they can take care of their kids, take them to Robben Island or any other island, sit there, study until they are qualified to come back and work to look after their kids.”

Annandale said the mother and child trust would later cause difficulties in their future relationships.

“The teen won’t be able to concentrate on school work, the child’s brain development will also be delayed. The mother could end up not wanting to come back for the child.”

Katharine Hall, from the Children’s Institute at UCT, said the statement was “ludicrous and uninformed”.

“There is a widespread belief that teenage pregnancy is an escalating problem. This is not true. Fewer teenagers have babies nowadays than they did in earlier times.”

Teens in the current generation were less likely to give birth than those in their mothers’ or grandparents’ generation.

She added that law allowed for pregnant moms to continue with their schooling. “The idea of separating children from their mothers is inappropriate and unhelpful. Early childhood is a sensitive developmental period when it is important for children to be with their mothers.”

Julia Starck, from the Parent Centre organisation, questioned the suggestion.

“How can removal of mothers until they are ‘trained and qualified to take care of their children’ even be contemplated?”

Marie Stopes spokeswoman Andrea Thompson said:

“Parenting should be a choice of all ages. This sounds more like punishing young women solely for falling pregnant.”

The DA has also called on Zuma to retract his statement.

DA national spokeswoman Phumzile Van Damme said: “The president’s comments are not only irresponsible, but expose a deep-seated patriarchal thinking behind his words.” She added Zuma, as the holder of the highest office in the land, had done an embarrassing and offensive disservice to the country’s teenage pregnancy crisis.

During question time in Parliament, on Wednesday, Zuma denied reiterating the statement at the National House of Traditional Leaders address.

He said he was merely referencing back to when he first made the statement.

“I was responding to a contribution made by one of the traditional leaders. In fact, I was telling him on how I was stopped by women when I made the statement.”

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Cape Argus