Young unmarried fathers in the Hibiscus Coast Local Municipality : experiences and perceptions of fatherhood.
Makhanya, Thembelihle Brenda.
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South Africa has a high number of unmarried and absentee fathers which includes young unmarried fathers. A number of factors have contributed to this phenomenon. For example, apartheid policies such as the migrant labour system has impacted on family structure. In addition, legislation which did not give any unmarried fathers automatic responsibilities and rights in respect of their children may have contributed towards the rate of absentee fathers. The new Children’s Act, which came into force in 2010 now provides for automatic responsibilities and rights for unmarried fathers who meet certain criteria. Unmarried fathers who have consented to be identified as the father and who have paid maintenance and cultural damages may now automatically acquire parental responsibilities and rights. This has the potential to significantly influence father-child relationships. This study focused on young unmarried fathers’ who were aged between 18 to 29 years. It was designed to hear the voices of young men who are fathers residing in areas covered by the Hibiscus Coast Local Municipality. The main aim of the study was to explore young unmarried fathers’ experiences and perceptions of parenting their children. It sought to answer the following questions: what are young unmarried fathers’ current relationships with their children? What are the factors influencing child-father contact and involvement? What are unmarried fathers’ views of fatherhood? A qualitative interpretive approach was used. Semi-structured interviews were used to obtain information from nine young unmarried fathers. The research was guided by social constructionism theory. Purposive sampling was used in the selection of participants for this study. Three participants were between the ages of 17-19 when they had their first child whilst six were between 20-24 years. Between them, they had a total number of fifteen children. However, only four of these children were living with their fathers. Cultural issues of damage payments; maternal and paternal family reactions and unemployment were factors which influenced father-child care, contact and involvement. Unemployment negatively affected young fathers since they were unable to pay child maintenance. iv The young unmarried fathers’ views of fatherhood were consistent with the social construct of masculinity, which views fathers as providers, role models and breadwinners. However, the participants also acknowledged the importance of being emotionally available to their children through spending time together and showing love. Permanently co-residing with their own children was the desire of all the participants. The recommendations include community awareness and education programs to respond to the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the area. Recommendations are also made in relation to social work services and legislation and policy changes.