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The concerning rise of single motherhood in Africa

By Simon Mwebaze

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

Single motherhood has found attention across the globe, especially in western countries. It is estimated that there are 11 million single-parent families in the US, with 80% of them led by single mothers. Worse still, about 12.7 million children are raised in homes without fathers. In the EU, 7.8 million households with children consist of single parents. It accounts for 4% of total households and 14% of households with children.

Little attention has been put on this in Africa. Only a few countries have had something to say in sub-Saharan Africa about single motherhood and the challenges it brings and will bring as it continues to rise. Some African countries that have been vocal about it include South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda.

Single motherhood did not come out of nowhere. Several causes have been blamed for the rise in single motherhood, going back to colonialism. During colonialism, it is claimed that many African men would leave their families to find work in other, more developed towns. Once there, they would send their incomes back home and would not have enough to spend on journeys back. Therefore, this led them to find women in the cities where they were. They often did not stay in long-term relationships with these women. Besides leaving their families with one parent, they would leave these new women as single parents. 

Another historical event blamed for single motherhood is apartheid in South Africa. Under the homeland system, blacks were settled in separate establishments from whites. Because the areas where they lived lacked employment, the men would leave home to find work in the metropolitan cities and mining areas. They often did not return, leaving many families with single mothers. But this line of argument has been argued to be false because the rate of single motherhood in South Africa has grown even after apartheid ended. 

So, what are some of the current reasons behind this growing issue? 

There are a couple of factors blamed for the rise in single motherhood in Africa. Domestic violence is one of the reasons. Women are leaving their husbands to avoid being beaten, injured, or killed. Strongly related to domestic violence is husbands neglecting their responsibility of caring for their families. Many African men have neglected providing for their families, instead turning to alcohol, leaving them to fend for themselves. 

Additionally, there is social decadence that has contributed to the rise of single motherhood. While in the past, sex and children outside wedlock were looked down upon in African society, current times celebrate single parenthood by labeling single mothers as “independent and strong.”

Culturally, men are being hindered by traditional marriage customs. The chief culprit is lobola or bride price which has become too expensive for most young men to afford. Due to their incapability to meet some of the exorbitant money requests by families, many men have resorted to waiting out marriage. 

Another surprising challenge is the increase in educated women. Women tend to marry men who are doing better than them. But with the increase in women with degrees and better-paying jobs, it has become difficult for women to settle. On the other hand, some men are intimidated by educated women which makes it more complicated. 

Single motherhood would not be concerning if it had no negative societal implications. In the long and short run, the children suffer the most. Single-mother households have double the poverty rate of two-parent households from only having one income source. South African women also earn 28% less than men. The effect on children from single-mother households is that they are three times more likely than children from two-parent households to end up in poverty. 

Besides poverty, children from single-motherhood households have challenges adjusting to society. For example, boys without a father figure are more aggressive and have other hyper-masculine behaviors. These lead to unhealthy relationships, an affinity for crime, and addictions. Without available fathers, girls are likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, unwanted pregnancies, and end up in unhealthy relationships that may include abusive partners.

Where is this heading? In Kenya, it is predicted that 60% of Kenyan women are likely to be single by the time they are 45 years old. In South Africa, 60% of SA children have an absent father, and 40% of mothers are single parents.

Governments such as South Africa have put in place the “National Development Plan: Vision 2030” geared toward investments in education, health services, public transport, housing, and social security. Additionally, they will have welfare policies specifically directed toward assisting women and children. 

While such government programs can assist to create better financial and living conditions for single mothers and children, the root of the issue is the disentanglement of the family unit. There is a need to go back to African roots where men were responsible for their families and women were concerned about raising children in a family unit. More responsible African men and women, whichever way that comes, is what Africa needs to reverse this crisis. 

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Simon Mwebaze

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