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Baby Grant (English)

Anne Mireille Nzouankeu / Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

The down side to the government’s baby grant.

Associated Features: Baby Grant(French Translation)

In South Africa, the government gives impoverished black mothers a monthly grant of R250 (€26) for each child they have. This grant, also referred to as baby grant, drives many young girls to early pregnancy. In some instances, the young mothers cash in the money, but leave their babies in the care of their own mothers.

Julia D. is mother to eight children who live in Johannesburg, Secunda, Ermelo and Nelspruit. She herself lives in Mpuluzi, an area of Mayflower in the Mpumalanga region, where she raises her twelve grandsons. The eldest grandchild is 22 and the youngest, one.

“We have all been living with our grandmother since birth,” says Siphosethu, one of the grandsons whose name means “our gift” in Zulu.

In the room that serves both as a kitchen and a lounge, Siphosethu D. watches a boxing match on television. At the centre of the room is a small table surrounded by four chairs. There is a stove and a pile of pots in the corner. A sink stands opposite to the stove, just next to the television set. It is in this room that Julia's twelve grandsons gather for meals or to watch television. Apart from this lounge, also used as a kitchen, the house has five bedrooms and one bathroom.

Siphosethu, who is 16, is a grade 9 pupil. He is the second child to a mother who only sees him once a year, when she returns from Johannesburg during her yearly leave. After having been rejected by his father, he took on his grandmother's family name. He argues that many of his schoolmates also live with their grandmothers and hardly see their mothers.

Elijah Mkhonza, one of Julia's neighbours who claimed to know the family, explains the situation: “Sometimes the girls fall pregnant and the father refuses to take care of the child. If she is staying at her employer's residence, she cannot take the children with her”. However, John Marker, allegedly living in Mayflower for more than 20 years, declares that, “These girls are only attracted to money. They get pregnant earlier and earlier to receive the grant. As soon as the baby is born, they leave it with their mothers and move to the city in search of a better life”.

16-year-old Teenage Mothers

In Mayflower, June 17, 2010 was a day people collected social grants for the running month.

The 15 girls interviewed that day were all less than 20 years of age. They all blamed their accidental pregnancies on a lack of knowledge about contraceptives. However, they admitted not trying to interrupt the pregnancy, despite the fact that abortion is legal in South Africa.

“Having a baby is not a bad thing. If our parents hadn't kept us, where would we be today?” explains Nkhele, who is only 20 and already a mother of two. “Usually, we wait to be adults before having children because we want to have a job first. But since the Government is helping us look after our kids, we do not find it necessary to have an abortion,” adds Dinda, another teenage mother.

Phuzela, 16-years-old and mother to an 11 month-old child, admits that her living conditions have improved since she started receiving the grant. “The father of the child shied away from the pregnancy. The grant money helps me look after the child and occasionally pays for my clothes,” explains Phuzi. She approves of babysitting grandmothers and reveals, “If I had the opportunity to live elsewhere, I would leave my child with my mother”.

Mac Sulimau, a hawker selling shoes at the social grant collection point, shared his thoughts: “No matter what these girls say, the reality is that because of the grant, poor girls are more and more careless about falling pregnant. For them the governmental grant is a godsend”.

A Vicious Cycle

Every month, Julia's daughters receive the grants for their children and send part of it to her. The grandmother completely relies on that money for a living, as she is jobless and has been a widow since 1994. The money is essentially used to buy groceries and settle some bills, as school uniforms and stationary, public education, and primary healthcare are free of charge, according to Siphosethu.

Real challenges start when the children reach the age of 18, as they no longer qualify for the grant. Parents are then on our own. It is at that particular juncture that a vicious cycle is created within families.

“I noticed that children become parents when they are about 17 years of age. That way, they receive the grant for the child and the family carries on living off a Government subsidy,” explains Lawrence Wood, a merchant in Mayflower.

According to recent statistics by the South African Ministry in charge of social affairs, at the end of January 2009, more than 12.8 million children had benefited from the grant.

The grant is aimed at improving the living conditions of highly disadvantaged children as well as increasing the purchasing power of the beneficiaries.

However, with the large number of children, mothers and grandmothers relying on the grants, is such a goal achievable? How far can the state address the rising birth and unemployment rates? The recipients of grants in Mayflower seem aware of the limitations of such subsidies, as they long for more employment opportunities.

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