Cape Town - Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) was recognised globally this week.
The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Abused Women and Children in Athlone, Cape Town, highlighted the link between substance abuse violence against partners.
“Some mothers are unaware of the negative impact of alcohol, while others drink because of addiction, or as a consequence of intimate partner abuse,” said Dorothea Gertse, head social worker at the centre.
“We see many cases in which alcohol has been consumed during pregnancy. A large percentage of the women who come to us to seek shelter for themselves and their children have substance abuse problems.”
On the extreme end of the spectrum, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is one of the main causes of severe mental disabilities and stunted growth in babies, though FASD covers milder manifestations as well.
It is estimated that over six million South Africans are living with the consequences of alcohol consumption during conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
“Research has shown that alcohol can give rise to abusive behaviour, but also that many women who are abused turn to alcohol and drugs as a result,” said Gertse.
She also notes that women who are in abusive relationships are very susceptible to forced sex, which can heighten the chances of unplanned pregnancies.
“Even the smallest amount of alcohol can have an effect on the child. Women should stop drinking when they start trying for a baby, and immediately if they are already pregnant,” says Gertse.
Established 18 years ago, the Saartjie Baartman Centre has assisted more than 190 000 victims of crime and violence.
Over and above offering long and short-term safe shelter, the Centre offers a number of programmes that address gender based violence in society, the economic disempowerment of women and child exposure to violence.