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The stigmatization of single mothers in Africa

18.07.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
In an Africa where the weight of tradition is omnipresent and where societies are for the most conservative, there are scourges that do not pass and are difficult to accept for the whole. In most cases, the society is not yet sufficiently educated to face this type of novelty without judgment. Among these, we find the issue of single mothers who, despite the evolution, are still stigmatized in our continent.
Still known as single motherhood, the phenomenon of single mothers is growing in Africa with the influence of Westernization. In most societies on the continent, single mothers are rejected, at least partially by their peers. In other countries, on the other hand, the situation has gradually improved by the evolution of its perception and the education of the society. The figures remain very alarming, despite the contrast observed in the context of the African continent, which is very conservative.

In Morocco, for example, according to a study conducted by the INSAF association in 2010 over the seven-year period (2003-2009), 210,434 single mothers gave birth to more than 500,000 children whose age is less than or equal to at 7 years old. These figures are even said to be lower than reality, since they refer only to single mothers who gave birth in hospitals, estimated at 83 women per day.

Constraints of the normative device of stigmatization

The stigmatization of single mothers on the African continent has several colors, the most important of which are in religious, legal and social contexts.

  • The normative religious system: religion occupies a very important place on the African continent. On the front line, there are beliefs such as Islam or Christianity that condemn premarital sexual intercourse known to be the main cause of the proliferation of single mothers. For the Bible and the Quran, fornication is a serious sin. We note, for example, that in Egypt, in Tunisia or in Algeria, where Islam is practiced with great acuity, extramarital sexuality is forbidden because it is perceived as a sin. The institution of marriage is defined as the only legitimate framework of reproduction.
  • The legal normative device: the legal system of some countries in the continent firmly represses extra-marital sex. In Morocco, for example, the repressive device had adopted a circular that allowed for legal proceedings against single mothers. During the 90s, every single woman was required to present herself, with her baby to the public prosecutor, 24 hours after giving birth for questioning. After the interrogation and the drawing up of a report, she was liable to imprisonment with her baby for the charge of fornication. A circular later recognized as humiliating and degrading, in total opposition to the preservation of human rights. From 1996 onwards, the legal situation was relatively relaxed, with the prison sentence of one to three now been suspended.

  • The social normative device: many women in Africa still hide their pregnancies for fear of being rejected or marginalized by society. This stigma affects all parts of the social domain. Whether it is the family, the school, the professional or even the associative, all pass without possibility of exemption. In the health field, for example, at the crucial moment of delivery, the woman pregnant out of wedlock switches, sometimes against her will, into the status of discredited at the time of identification of the other spouse. In this circumstance, social interactions are then influenced by the unveiling of the stigma. The excesses of the stigmatization of single mothers are very damaging for society, as it encourages the proliferation of abortions, the abandonment of children, and in some situations, affect the psychological status of children as they grow up.
  • The proliferation of abortions: faced with the negative view of society on their condition, many women do not support single motherhood. They prefer to avoid social stigma by resorting to abortions. In this situation, they generally find themselves trapped because the major part of the countries of the continent penalizes this practice to encourage the birth rate which represents the future of the continent. Faced with the constraint of the law, some women resort to clandestine abortion practices which increases the risk of maternal and infant mortality. Others, on the other hand, go to the end of their motherhood and it is only after giving birth that they no longer support the stigma.

  • The abandonment of children: the excesses of the stigma of single mothers in our continent are very often reflected even at the level of the child. Many single mothers prefer, after finding out they are pregnant, flee their families to places where they are not known. This saves them the taunts of conservative people and, gives them the possibility of easily abandoning their child, without being identified.
  • Effects on Children’s Psychological Status: Children born to single mothers sometimes do a lot more work in order to be accepted into our societies. In addition to the terms bastards, often used to describe them, we also note that the lack of identification of a parent on the ID is a major handicap for the evolution of the latter. Until recently in Cameroon, birth certificates and national identity cards contained the words “unknown father”. But the legislator having realized the impact of the use of this expression proceeded to its suppression.

Palliative solutions to the stigma of single mothers

Alternatives to the stigma of single mothers can be numerous. All that is needed is a strong commitment from our governments to implement single mother integration policies for them. It is in a bid to the fight against this scourge that the term “father unknown” was banned in the identification documents of citizens in Cameroon. Several efforts still need to be made and in several areas.

  • In the field of health: several policies can be set up in the field of health. For example, free basic health care and expanded maternal and child health programs can be expected. The most accomplished example would be to ensure free delivery and even a cesarean section to ensure that all mothers have equitable access to care, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

  • In the political field: single mothers should be included in the social policies of governments in order to bring about recognition of this category. National days for single mothers can for example be decreed to discuss their conditions and raise awareness among other citizens.
  • In the economic field: the ideal would be, for example, to allow single mothers to benefit from a minimum of specialized benefits from social welfare organizations. This solution, while difficult to implement, may prove to be very necessary in view of the recurring economic difficulties faced by the majority of single mothers on the continent.

Article from AFRIC editorial

Photo credit: google images/ illustration

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