Study Demonstrates Plight of Child-Headed Families in South Africa’s Durban Archdiocese

Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of South Africa’s Durban Archdiocese.
Credit: Public Domain

The leadership of the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of South Africa’s Durban Archdiocese has, in a research report, highlighted the plight of child-headed households (CHHs) in the Church’s jurisdiction.

In the report, JPC officials note, in reference to CHHs, that their “composition and structure clearly make them vulnerable.”

“The main aspects that came out strongly include child headed families’ challenges such as perpetual bereavement, single mothers’ struggles to cope with the current situation, neglect, discrimination and isolation amongst families among other issues,” JPC Durban officials say in the report published Friday, September 4.

In the report dated August 28, one of the families featured is that of Nosipho (not real name) and her two siblings, who have been orphaned for more than three years, leaving them “in a difficult position.”

“Our father used to come home once around Christmas holidays. He would buy us some food, which lasts about two weeks, the time he spends with us. Then he leaves us again,” Nosipho says in the report and adds in reference to their dad, ''We finish the last bites of the food he bought by the time he goes away and starve again for the whole year."

As the head of the family, Nosipho has to struggle to provide for her siblings amid personal struggle to finish her mechanical engineering diploma course, which she is no longer able to pay for, she says.

The 18-page JPC Durban research report also established that children in child-headed families “were reportedly in a state of continuous grief of their deceased adult breadwinners.” 

“Particularly, worrying was that this perpetual bereavement was mainly elaborate among children who were household heads,” the Durban Archdiocese officials note in the September 4 report obtained by ACI Africa.

“Sometimes, I cry when I will be missing my mom…I just don’t want my young siblings to see that. I just don’t know what to do without our mom; I just make them see as if I am coping,” Mbali (not real name) says in the report.

For Misheck (not real name), when their parents were alive, they taught them to pray every night before going to bed, something they no longer do because “every time we start singing and praying, all my younger siblings start to remember and miss our parents, and they start crying.”

From interactions with children in such households, the JPC Durban officials say, “one of the major shortfalls of growing up in a child headed household was that children were experiencing neglect and emotional despondence that goes with it.”

The children testified that they were always avoided and stigmatized by some in the community, the JPC officials report.

“Smangele (not real name) asserted that there is a belief that we are not socially and economically at the same level with our community members,” Smangele says in the JPC Durban report and adds, “some mentioned that they hated some of their relatives who snatched their inheritance after their parents passed away.”

The implication of the above declarations, the JPC researchers report, “is that children living in child headed families face stigma, discrimination and isolation.”

“More so, it is apparent that the children from child headed families usually present symptoms of self-pity and low self-esteem or at least keep the view that due to their living conditions, they are ignored by society,” the researchers add in the JPC report.

As a way forward, Durban Archdiocese officials propose the initiation of government-sponsored Moral Regeneration Programs (MRPs) implemented by the civil society organizations in partnership with the relevant ministry.

Among the main agenda of MRPs, the JPC officials say, “should be the need to re-stimulate a sense of social responsibility and willingness among extended families and the general society to honor their socio-culturally bestowed responsibility of caring and protecting the children of their deceased kinsmen.”

“The general lobbying stance should be focused on keeping children in normal homes and avoid Child headed households,” they add in their research report.

They also propose the development of Self Defense and Strengthening of Child Protection Systems to protect the children in CHHs from sexual exploitation. 

The self-defense systems, they say, “should also be intertwined with proper reproductive health and sex education in families, the community and in schools” because some young girls are sexually active leading to teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Informed by their findings on the impact of grief on members of CHHs, the JPC officials propose an increased access to quality grief and trauma recovery services among orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs).

The officials who have been supporting members of CHHs and other vulnerable families amid COVID-19 restrictions recommend that with the support of their two Shepherds, Wilfred Cardinal Napier and Auxiliary Archbishop Abel Gabuza, they “visit affluent parishes and seek support from them to help the poor.”


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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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