Broken Families Are Breaking Youth

unemployment drug abuse learning
Wednesday, 22 June, 2011 - 09:12

Parents should be involved in their children’s lives. Their involvement could go a long way in keeping children away from social ills such as alcohol abuse, crime and drugs

Unemployment, teenage pregnancy, crime and drug and alcohol abuse all affect South Africa’s youth. Family breakdown and the absence of fathers in particular, may contribute to these social ills.

“Nine million kids with no dads” was the headline on the front page of The Sowetan on 5 April 2011. It was based on the South African Institute of Race Relations’ research into family breakdown and its harmful consequences for children. The following week Ms Phumla Matjila cited our research in her column in The Times, but argued that being brought up by her grandmother had been good for her.

There are exceptions, but in general the odds are stacked against South Africa’s young people succeeding. Only 68 percent of candidates passed their matric in 2010 and to pass a subject they only had to get 30 percent right anyway. Of those who enrolled in university in 2002, more than half dropped out. One in two young people who want a job cannot find one, and a third of 15-24 year olds are not in education, employment or training. In other words, they have nothing to do.

More than a third of the country’s prisoners are aged 18-25, whereas this age group accounts for only about 15 percent of the total population. Nearly 50 000 schoolgirls fell pregnant in 2007, a 151 percent increase since 2003. Drugs and alcohol seem to be easily accessible to many young people. Nearly a third of 12-24 year olds said they had easy access to marijuana and eight percent had easy access to crack cocaine.

We argue that the fact that two thirds of children do not live with their parents is damaging our future workers, entrepreneurs and leaders. There is no doubt that family breakdown is part of a cycle. After all, if parents are not involved in their children’s lives, how do they know what their children are doing? How do values get imparted to young people? How do children benefit from the experience of older generations?

More worryingly, young people with absent parents, living in poverty and with few prospects in life are more likely to go on to have unplanned children or perhaps children with multiple partners, and another generation will be born without stable families.

- Written by Lucy Holborn for the South African Institute of Race Relations. To read the full report, Broken Families Breaking Youth, written by Lucy Holborn, e-mail This article was first published on the Tshikululu Social Investment website.

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