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Are 57% of South African kids raised without fathers?

This article is more than 5 years old

  • Washing powder brand claimed 57% of South African kids were raised without fathers.

  • Stat came from old data which measured whether biological fathers spend at least four nights a week in the same household as their children.

  • Latest data puts the figure of absent fathers, including those who have died, above 60%.

In its latest advertising campaign, detergent brand Omo features a young boy reading from a homemade Father’s Day card.

“Thank you for always being there for me,” the boy reads, sitting on a coffee table. “You taught me how to build a fire, to tie a tie and hammer a hammer.”

The camera then cuts to the person receiving the card. “Gogo, you are my hero!” the boy says, hugging his smiling grandmother.

The ad opened with a stark statistic: “57% of SA kids are raised without fathers”. A reader flagged it for fact-checking.

Figure sourced from mentorship programme

The statistic was from an infographic by the African Youth Mentorship Network, Henry Muchauraya, the marketing manager for Unilever’s laundry division, told Africa Check. Unilever owns the Omo brand.

The infographic is part of the network’s “Become” campaign, which pairs young boys with mentors for six years to help them “become better men in their societies”.

“Did you know? 57% of South African fathers to children aged 15 years or younger are absent from their lives,” their infographic states. It cites Statistics South Africa’s 2002 General Household Survey as its source.

The figure was calculated from the share of children whose fathers were dead (11.2%) and those whose biological fathers were alive, but absent from the household (45.7%).

More recent estimates are higher

Stats SA conducts its General Household Survey every year, so much more recent data is available.

To be considered a resident of a household, a biological father needs to spend “at least four nights on average per week, for four weeks” living there, Stats SA’s deputy director for service delivery statistics, Casment Mahlwele, told Africa Check.

In South Africa’s Children’s Act, a child means a “person under the age of 18 years”.

The 2017 survey found the biological father of 61.8% of children younger than 18 were absent from the household. This is similar to 2016’s figure of 62.2%.

Stats SA’s much larger 2016 Community Survey of 1.3 million households estimated a higher figure of 64.1%. It was made up of 8.7% of children younger than 18 whose father had died and 55.4% whose biological father was alive but didn’t live with them.

Children under 18 with fathers absent from the house
General Household Survey 2017General Household Survey 2016Community Survey 2016
Father deceased10.1%10.7%8.7%
Father alive, but not living with child51.7%51.5%55.4%

Source: Stats SA General Household Survey 2016, 2017; Community Survey 2016.

Men fulfilling caregiving function not counted as father

This indicator doesn’t tell us whether biological fathers are involved in raising their children, though.

“The fact that a biological father does not live with a child does not mean that the father is not involved in the child’s life, nor does living with a child mean involvement either,” Wessel van den Berg told Africa Check.

Van den Berg manages the Children’s Rights and Positive Parenting unit at Sonke Gender Justice, a South African nongovernmental organisation that works to promote the equitable treatment of men, women and children.

“Additionally, a child may live with a man who fulfils a caregiving function, and who is not their biological father,” Van den Berg added. "This man will not be counted as a father in current household surveys."

More than this, fathers who only come home on weekends are not considered household members because of how Stats SA defines residency.

“A person or father coming only on weekends will not be counted as part of the household as we run the risk of counting or enumerating that person again in a different place of house during the week,” Mahlwele told Africa Check.

Sonke Gender Justice, working with the Human Social Science Research Council (HSRC), plans to release South Africa’s first State of the Fathers report on 12 July 2018. It will include policy proposals for increasing men’s involvement in childcare.

Conclusion: More than 60% of biological fathers don’t live with their children

Washing powder brand Omo claimed 57% of South African kids were raised without fathers in an advert celebrating people who fulfil this role.

The figure came from 2002 data which measured whether biological fathers were absent from the household at least four days a week.

More recent data based on this measure produced a higher share of 61.8% to 64.1% of kids living without fathers, including those whose father has died. This data excludes children raised by fathers who didn’t live with them and men not related to them, but who play a fatherlike role.

Edited by Anim van Wyk


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