Pres­i­dent faces mas­sive back­lash

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AS PRES­I­DENT Ja­cob Zuma faced an­other round of crit­i­cism in Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day, a fresh wave of back­lash raged over his ut­ter­ances that teenage moth­ers be re­moved from their ba­bies un­til they have com­pleted their school­ing.

Re­it­er­at­ing the con­tro­ver­sial state­ments he made dur­ing his 2009 elec­tion cam­paign, Zuma said on Tues­day that teenage girls must be taken far away from their ba­bies.

“They (teenage girls) must be taken away and forced to go to school, far away,” the pres­i­dent said in his re­sponse to the de­bate on his ad­dress to the House of Tra­di­tional Lead­ers.

Zuma’s state­ment drew crit­i­cism from chil­dren’s rights and so­cial wel­fare ac­tivist or­gan­i­sa­tions. Katharine Hall, a se­nior re­searcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town’s Chil­dren’s In­sti­tute, said Zuma’s ut­ter­ances were ab­surd.

“The Pres­i­dent’s sug­ges­tion to re­move the ba­bies of young moth­ers from their care is clearly lu­di­crous and un­in­formed, pre­sum­ably made in jest to build rap­port with tra­di­tional lead­ers he was ad­dress­ing in Par­lia­ment,” Hall said.

She added that the idea of sep­a­rat­ing chil­dren from their moth­ers was “in­ap­pro­pri­ate and un­help­ful” be­cause the leg­is­la­tion gives young women the right to re­turn to their ed­u­ca­tion af­ter giv­ing birth.

Zuma is known for his tra­di­tional views, which are of­ten at odds with South Africa’s con­sti­tu­tion. In 2012, the Com­mis­sion on Gen­der Equal­ity ruled against Zuma for his state­ment that it was a prob­lem in so­ci­ety for a par­ent to stay with an un­mar­ried daugh­ter.

Zuma, while ac­knowl­edg­ing that his ini­tial state­ment had sparked con­tro­versy, was un­re­pen­tant on Tues­day.

“The women protested, I want to take their kids away from them and blah, blah, blah.

“So I kept quiet, be­cause I was say­ing in no way can you have young kids be­ing moth­ers of other kids and young boys be­ing fa­thers of kids – they know noth­ing of it.”

The Pres­i­dent said al­low­ing teenage moth­ers to leave school early was an un­ten­able bur­den on so­ci­ety and the State’s so­cial wel­fare bill.

Hall said Zuma’s state­ments were an in­di­ca­tion of the gen­eral mis­con­cep­tions about the trends in teenage preg­nancy in the coun­try.

“First, there is a wide­spread be­lief that teenage preg­nancy is an es­ca­lat­ing prob­lem. This is not true. Fewer teenagers have ba­bies nowa­days than they did in ear­lier times,” she said.

Lisa Vet­ten, a re­search as­so­ciate at the Wits In­sti­tute for So­cial and Eco­nomic Re­search, said the Pres­i­dent’s ut­ter­ances were ap­palling.

“It’s shock­ing that the Head of State can make th­ese pol­icy pro­nounce­ments in con­tra­dic­tion to his gov­ern­ment pol­icy and pro­grammes.

“It’s most un­for­tu­nate that peo­ple scape­goat teenage girls for any­thing and ev­ery­thing that’s wrong in the coun­try. If he (Zuma) was to read re­search, he would see that teenage girls don’t fall preg­nant be­cause they are bored, stupid or want to ir­ri­tate their par­ents.”

The DA called on Zuma to re­tract his state­ment.

Pres­i­den­tial spokesman Mac Ma­haraj said Zuma had not sin­gled out girls for crit­i­cism.

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