In South Africa, where many traditions define fathers almost exclusively as material providers, single mothers who bear the economic burden of raising a child often concurrently bear all the emotional and task-related childcare as well.

In South Africa many fathers are not involved in their children’s lives. Many of these uninvolved fathers are unemployed or low earners and may feel unable to provide materially for their children, so they remove themselves or are excluded from seeing their children. In these situations, children lose out on the many social and emotional benefits of having an active father in their lives.

In addition to relieving the care burden of mothers, we know that involved fatherhood helps children thrive: it has been linked to higher cognitive development and school achievement, better mental health for both boys and girls, and lower rates of delinquency in sons. Studies in multiple countries have shown that fathers’ interaction is important for the development of empathy and social skills in sons and daughters.

What we do

The cross-cutting Child Rights and Positive Parenting (CRPP) Unit works with all other units within Sonke to promote positive parenting practices that include positive discipline strategies, a healthy supportive relationship between coparents and supporting a child’s education, health and wellbeing.

The MenCare South Africa Programme is the primary intervention undertaken by the CRPP unit, and works to create healthier family dynamics, a sharing of parental roles in a child’s life and gender-equitable relationships. Through the MenCare Global Fatherhood campaign, we engage men as caregivers and as fathers. We offer 12-week long community-based fathers’ groups around South Africa and support their implementation in over 25 countries on five continents. Since its establishment in 2011, MenCare has reached an estimated 250,000 individuals. In these fatherhood groups, fathers, expectant fathers and caregivers – along with some mothers and women caregivers – discuss their own experiences of fatherhood, learn practical parenting and communication skills, are encouraged to support their children’s mother, and learn positive discipline methods. Sonke co-ordinates the campaign with Promundo.

In South Africa, Sonke also implements MenCare+. It is a focused and intensive package of services and actions to engage men in reproductive health, sexual health, maternal health and neonatal health. The MenCare+ team works closely with the MOSAIC Centre for Women and Children to offer parenting and sexual, reproductive health and rights training for hundreds of men and women across the Western Cape. Across Africa, countries in the MenEngage Africa network implement MenCare and MenCare+ activities that respond to the different children’s rights issues faced around the continent.

At policy level, Sonke advocates for better parental leave. Parental leave gives men the opportunity to bond with their children while they are still infants. Research supports the idea that this bonding time increases the likelihood that a father will remain involved in his child’s life in the long run.

To encourage even wider acceptance of nonviolent parent-child relationships, Sonke drives a national, multipronged campaign to prohibit corporal punishment in all spaces in South Africa, and to promote the use of positive discipline strategies by parents.