Families need healing
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to give our children safe and secure families, says a new report.
The SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) released "alarming findings" about broken families on Monday, and said the root causes are social decay and sky-high crime levels.

The report titled "First steps to healing the South African family" tells of violence in homes, absent fathers and child-headed households, in many cases with the mother still alive. "Many South African children are not growing up in safe and secure families...," the report finds.

Urgent questions need to be raised about why these trends seemed to be on the increase. "Difficult issues such as attitudes to parental responsibility and attitudes to monogamy and commitment to relationships need to be publicly discussed, and addressed by broader society," the report notes.

"Why do parents, particularly fathers, fail to acknowledge their children? If this is seemingly acceptable to broader society, why is this so? What values are being passed on to children?"

The report shows that only a third of children grow up living with both of their parents and that nearly one million children have lost both their parents, many to Aids.

There are about 98 000 children living in child-headed households, but 81%  of them do have living mothers. About eight percent of children live in "skip-generation" households with grandparents or great aunts and uncles. Nearly half of children (48% ) are growing up with absent, but living fathers.

"The latest available data about fathers in South Africa, shows that the proportion of fathers who are absent and living increased between 1996 and 2009, from 42% to 48%.

"Over the same period, the proportion of fathers who were present decreased from 49% to 36%. " The report is based on the results of several international and local research papers.

"A racial dimension was evident in trends of absent fathers. African children under 15 years had the lowest proportion of present fathers in 2009 at 30%, compared to 53% for coloured children, and 85% for Indians, and 83% for whites."

Youth unemployment stands at 51% and there are 3.3 million young people not in education, employment or training.
Also, about 50,000 school girls fell pregnant in 2007.

Youth turn to a life of crime

The report finds that more than a third of the country’s prison population is under the age of 25.

"A third of young people think that it would be acceptable to physically attack somebody who had assaulted them in the past if the opportunity arose. Violence within families appears to be a major contributing factor to youth crime.

"In a South African study which compared young offenders and young non-offenders, 27% of the offenders said that people in their family sometimes hit each other compared with nine percent of the non-offenders." According to the report, low education levels and violence in homes probably contribute more to high crime levels than poverty.

"Education also plays a role in the likelihood that young people will turn to crime: only four percent of young offenders had completed Grade 12 compared with 12% of non-offending young people.

"In contrast, the study found that poverty is not a factor in youth resilience to crime. Non-offending young people experienced similar levels of poverty when growing up to those who went on to offend."

The researchers say South Africans need to be aware of the risk that dysfunctional families pose to future generations. "Moreover, there is evidence that people from broken families are more likely to go on to have relationship problems and create fractured families themselves. This is a cycle that needs to be broken."

Recommendations in the report include the deployment of more social workers, better sex education and initiatives to encourage older men to support young men in the absence of fathers.

Where should we start in trying to address some of these challenges?

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