This year’s African Child Trauma Conference focused on the development of an emergency action plan to protect the continent’s vulnerable children. Part of drawing up the plan included identifying local resources, scalable solutions and means to mobilise individuals, families, communities and society at large through the sharing of practical tools.
At a societal level, as biological and social fathers, men have a powerful role to play in breaking the cycle of violence. Research on the state of fatherhood in South Africa conducted by Heartlines and presented by CEO Dr Garth Japhet identified a knowledge gap regarding the huge contribution a positively present father or father figure makes in the life of a child.
According to research, over 64% of children in South Africa grow up without the presence of their biological father at home. While the absence of a father or father figure in the home is by no means a guarantee that a child will fall into negative behavioural patterns, studies have shown that there is a greater risk of mental illness and being a victim, or perpetrator, of gender-based violence in such instances. A correlation between the absence of a father or father figure and an increased likelihood of teenage pregnancy has also been found. Educational and economic attainment has also been proven to be adversely impacted when there is no positive male presence in a child’s life. These findings serve to illustrate that father absence is a public health crisis with an impact as severe as poverty and disease.
Barriers to participation
Heartlines’ research on the state of fatherhood in South Africa highlighted that the role of a father was primarily regarded as one of financial provision. Inability to provide financially was found to be one of several barriers identified in the study that were keeping fathers from actively participating in their children’s lives. Other barriers included relational tension between a child’s biological parents, cultural barriers, systemic barriers within the healthcare and legal systems, and the misperception that men lack the requisite skills to care for their children.
In discussing the role of fathers and father figures in the context of preventative measures for childhood trauma and gender-based violence, Dr Japhet suggested that interventions should encompass activities that promote the positive presence of fathers. He also called for the support of large-scale programmes to address the barriers to fathers being present in their children’s lives. In addition to this, he advocated for men who expressed a desire to be actively and positively present to also receive support through mentorship groups and accessible information and resources.
The African Child Trauma Conference serves as a platform for child protection stakeholders to connect with investors, scientists, technical experts, development partners, government organisations and civil society with the aim of bringing them together to formulate effective ways of improving child protection in Africa.