Family life in South Africa is characterised by a decline in marriage, and marked increases in the number of single-parent households, children growing up without a father, orphaned children, and teenage pregnancy. This is according to updated statistics published by the South African Institute of Race Relations in the most recent issue of Fast Facts.
Registered marriages – both civil and customary – declined by 8% between 2003 and 2010. Children born to unmarried parents are statistically more likely to end up living in single-parent households, which are prone to poverty and unemployment.
The proportion of children with absent fathers increased by 14% between 1996 and 2010. Some 47% of children had absent but living fathers in 2010, compared to 16% whose fathers were deceased, and 37% whose fathers were present.
Previous research published by the Institute in 2011 (Fast Facts, April and May 2011) shows that young girls who grow up without a father are more likely to experience lower self-esteem, higher levels of risky sexual behaviour, and more difficulties in romantic relationships. Young boys who grow up without a father are prone to engage in over-compensatory masculine behaviour. Lerato Moloi, a researcher from the Institute, said that this could be a possible explanation for high mortality rates among men and the prevalence of violent acts against women and children.
In 2010 there were more than 3.5 million orphans in South Africa, 60% of which were paternal. High mortality rates among men and the fact that children with unknown paternal identities are recorded as paternal orphans because the vital status of their fathers is not known contributes to high rates of paternal orphanhood.
In 2008 some 58 000 girls fell pregnant while in school, an increase of 150% since 2003. Pregnancy is cited as one of the top ten reasons why young girls, and some boys, leave school before matriculating. Research shows that teenage mothers are more likely to end up living in poverty as a result of poor education and thus poor job prospects. In addition, women born to teenage mothers are twice as likely to have a child as a teenager themselves. This points to a vicious cycle where problems facing teenage mothers are likely to be passed on to their children, affecting family life for generations to come.
Ms Moloi said that it is important for South Africans to start planning their families. That way, cycles such as those perpetuated by absent fatherhood and teenage pregnancy, among other things, can start to be broken.