I think most of our sociologists and economists would admit that the increase in single parenting has contributed significantly to many of the social ills in our society today. Many civil society, private and public sector organizations have been performing excellently by assisting single-headed households to improve their standard of living and quality of life. However, there is need for a more comprehensive and structured approach to the myriad of issues facing households headed by single mothers.
Many single mothers work with security services, so very often they are not home at nights, thus leaving young children unattended. Some of them leave their children with stepfathers, some of whom abuse these children in different ways. I have met quite a few of single mothers who have resorted to prostitution – in some cases their children are involved in prostitution too. I remember one night going out on the street and offering to pay some women the ‘wages for that night’ in return for them to go home to their families, some of them took it and went home, but that was just money for one night. Some of them wanted jobs but could not find persons to give them references, so they continued their trade.
Some single mothers would like to find jobs but cannot afford day-care fees, or even if they are able to pay the fees they cannot provide meals for their children at the day-care facility. I discovered that some mothers felt more comfortable to keep their children at home without food than to send them to a day-care centre or to school without food.
I discovered that some of them because they were constantly changing residence, could not afford to send their children back to schools in areas where they were living previously.
I discovered that in some homes, the mothers and grandmothers were HIV positive. In many cases mothers had died from HIV and the single head of the household were the grandmothers. In some cases children were taking care of children.
Some single mothers send their children out as beggars and vendors. In one case a mother sat on a nearby koker in the nights and watched over her children while they begged.
During this August vacation, many parents are having difficulties, because for many of them, schools are day-care centres – a safe place where they take their children for seven or eight hours, and now they have no place to send these children or no one to keep them while they are at work, and some of them very young.
Some of them have to take the children on the job but that is not always permissible.
Single parenting also seems to be a mentality, and is sometimes used as an excuse by many for irresponsible behaviour. Many of these mothers believe that because they are single parents they are doomed to a certain kind of life.
One mother after her son who was about five years old got hit in the street by a motor cycle, when asked why the child was on the street, responded, “I am a single parent, I can’t look at them all the time.”
I am not at all indicating that all single mothers are experiencing these challenges. I do know of single mothers who are managing very well and also have excellent social and family networks which are proving to be extremely successful and filling much needed gaps. However, these are not the mothers whose case I am pleading; it is those who are really suffering.
I find it a very painful experience now to see young girls in school one term and the next they are pregnant and then become single mothers and the cycle continues.
Many of these single mothers are also illiterate, hence they are unable to make well informed decisions; as such, they very casually keep their children out of school and this is only one example.
Something needs to be done to ensure that fathers are more responsible. Yes these women can resort to the court but there is still need for a more comprehensive and structured approach to address the issue of single parenting. These children do not only need money but the influence of fathers in their lives. Women are doing an excellent job but children need ‘fathering’ also!
I know some would say that women also need to be responsible and focus more attention on family planning and contraceptives. That is a valid point but there is still a very serious issue which is facing the nation.
I have spoken to many fathers and men and I realize that some men have serious issues too. Issues ranging from those with women generally, the attitude of mothers, issues where some wives do not permit them to care for children outside of the marriage, some of them never learnt how to be responsible, issues with various addictions – drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling and sex. Some men have never had a male in their home as father, grandfather or stepfather, and since all behaviour is learnt, some of them do not know how to be fathers. The issues for both men and women are many and very real. I think the time has come for us to address single parenting, openly, frankly and strategically as a nation.
Maybe we need to have a national conversation on the matter, including with men to determine what are their issues, and how social and family networks can be strengthened and built to support parents. Maybe there should be a workshop with different stakeholders to develop a collective approach to address the matter.
However, it is addressed I do believe that it is a matter of great urgency, and I am asking President Jagdeo and Minister Manickchand to address this matter; we cannot continue be casual.