Single mothers make up a huge chunk of parents that are struggling to raise their children and getting the fathers of their children to shoulder some of the burden is proving difficult. Picture: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - Single mothers in South Africa make up a huge chunk of parents that are struggling to raise their children and getting the fathers of their children to shoulder some of the burden is proving very difficult as courts are finding it hard to get them to pay child support.

There are a number of reasons that women end up as single parents. In fact, the number of women that raise their own kids by themselves is steadily rising and could soon surpass that of households with both parents.

A recent report from Statistics South Africa indicates that of the 7.2 million houses in the country that contain children, less than half of them had both parents. The 2017 general household survey showed that 62.7% of households in South Africa had absent fathers.

The survey revealed that almost half (49.6%) of these households only contained a single mother and less than 4% of them had a single father. 

While many single mothers often turn to the courts to compel the fathers of their children to pay child support, anecdotal evidence suggests even that route is not foolproof. Some deadbeat dads are known to quit their jobs just to avoid paying child support.

A 27-year-old mother * Thembi Ndlovu, who asked not to be named, and who recently broke up with her partner of 11 years and was left with a young child, counts herself among the lucky ones.

She says the father of her child continues to pay child support and visits regularly. 

"He helps with the baby toiletries and all other small things I need when needed. I roughly spend R2 000 per month on my baby."

Experiencing the opposite is 35-year-old ** Rachel Mahlangu, who is struggling with her 12-year-old daughter. 

Mahlangu said she fell pregnant less than a year after she started dating.

"We didn't discuss having the baby. I was still young and not mature enough. He actually tricked me into not using protection ... he told me not to worry, saying I wouldn’t fall pregnant," laments Mahlangu.

Once she told him she was three weeks pregnant, he ended their relationship because he said he didn't want the child.

"He is not supporting our daughter in any way. I’ve been to court before and he only agreed to pay as little as R500. He stopped in 2017 because he says he is unemployed."

Mahlangu said she suspects that her former shop manager boyfriend quit his job to avoid responsibility for child support.

A maintenance court official said: "In a case where the parent can prove that they do not have an income, the court can not force the unemployed parent to find money to give to the other parent. The defendant needs to have means to provide for the applicant."

However, getting the court to compel employed fathers to pay is also not that easy.

Mahlangu said she had taken her ex-boyfriend to the maintenance court, but gave up after attending around six court proceedings without reaching an agreement.

The Stats SA survey showed that the majority of South African children grew up without their fathers being present.

Child Rights and Positive Parenting Unit Manager at Sonke Gender Justice, Wessel van den Berg, said MenCare Global Fatherhood was a programme that was involved in training parents with being present in the lives of their children. 

MenCare is a global campaign to promote men’s and boys’ involvement as equitable, non-violent caregivers.

"Our programme is for new parents to help them with making connections with their children from when they are born.We were involved in the Labour Law amendment act which allowed fathers to have maternity leave, but it's not being implemented well despite being signed off by the government."

Van den Berg said there were workshops to assist men and create role models to take away the burden from mothers. 

He said that 71% of children in South Africa lived with an adult man who wasn't the biological father and more needed to be done to promote social fatherhood.

As for Mahlangu, she says: "He has no relationship with my daughter at all, he doesn’t call or come check on her. It’s not about him supporting our daughter financially ... that would just be a bonus. All I wanted was for him to have a good relationship with the child, a walk to the park would make her happy that she has spent time with him."

Psychologist Lungile Lechesa said a father being absent could have various effects on a child like them feeling inadequate and like they are "not enough".

"Feelings of inadequacy, more often than not wondering why they are not “good enough” to have a father, particularly if their father is alive and just not interested in being part of their lives."

Lechesa added that the child could suffer from anxiety and depression, possibly as a result of the feelings of inadequacy and rejection.

"Feelings of shame from being abandoned or rejected by a father. Intense feelings of anger towards the absent father that may then be projected into other areas of the person’s life."

She said the absence of a father from a boy child could have different effects than those of a girl child.

"Boys may have a low self-esteem and may struggle with feelings of not having had a male figure to model what being a man is. Boys may also struggle with emotional intimacy in adulthood as they would have not had an emotional bond with their father or would have not seen what a healthy relationship (between their mother and father) looks like.

"Girls may have the following relationship difficulties, seek a father figure in romantic relationships which may result in them being in an exploitative (sexually and or emotionally) relationship, often with older men. Finding it difficult to be in a fulfilling relationship because they are seeking a father figure and misplace their emotional difficulties on their romantic partner."

** Not their real names.

African News Agency (ANA)