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June 24, 2021
The United States is one of the primary countries that's struggling with father absence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 18.4 million people live without a biological, step, or adoptive father. To put this figure in perspective, it means that 1 in 4 children go throughout life without having a father figure to guide, protect, and love them.
While devastating, father absence is a problem that persists in America. It constantly bubbles up to the surface even though many men are likely trying to avoid that outcome in their households. However, while father absence has become a major issue in the U.S., this problem goes well beyond geographical lines.
In Eswatini, Africa, father absence is a significant problem that affects many boys and girls. The worst part is that Eswatini is already struggling with a myriad of challenges that other countries aren't experiencing, and adding father absence to the list doesn't make things any easier.
Father absence in Eswatini
Father's Day is not something that most Swazis have the opportunity to celebrate in Eswatini. In this small kingdom in southern Africa, children with fathers are considered fortunate.
Most Swazi kids typically lose one or both of their parents at an early age. Sometimes, the decision to leave a Swazi child behind is voluntary, and other times, it's out of the parents' control.
For example, Eswatini has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world. With over 200,000 Swazis living with the virus, Eswatini regularly sees thousands of men and women die from HIV/AIDS. In 2019 alone, 2,300 Swazis passed away because of the virus.
Of course, many of those who died were men. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is generalized, meaning it affects every population in Eswatini, including men. And while the country's government is doing great at increasing access to antiretroviral treatment, many Swazi fathers still die from the virus, leading to father absence in their homes.
But passing away from HIV/AIDS is something these fathers can't help. Even with treatment, it's out of a father's control whether or not his condition worsens and prevents him from raising his children. However, poverty, another significant reason for father absence in Eswatini, is a factor that leads some fathers to abandon their kids voluntarily.
Research suggests that Eswatini is a lower-middle-income country. It ranked 138th out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index. And it has the 10th highest income inequality in the world, clocking in at 49 percent.
Because of these numbers, it's unsurprising that most Swazis live in poverty. Currently, about 58.9 percent of the rural population lives on less than US$1.90 per day, which is well below the national poverty line. Additionally, 20 percent of Eswatini's population is considered extremely poor.
With so much financial insecurity, it's not uncommon for Swazi parents, including fathers, to abandon their kids. The inability to care for them while watching them suffer and starve is too much for any parent to bear, and it often motivates Swazi fathers to leave their children behind.
The effect of father absence on Swazi children
No matter where a kid lives, if their father is absent, that child will suffer the consequences. Some mothers may try to shield their children from the impact of father absence, but as with many things in life, people can't protect their children from everything.
When a kid has an absent father, it takes a toll on their development. Even if a mother continues to play a role in her child's life, not having a father can lead to disastrous outcomes, including the following:
Children consistently report that not having a father in their lives makes them feel abandoned and causes them to struggle with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing.
Because of father absence, children tend to suffer in social situations. In fact, fatherless children are more likely to report issues with friendships and behavioral problems. Additionally, children without fathers typically develop an intimidating persona to mask their fears, anxieties, unhappiness, and resentment.
Research suggests that 71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless. Studies also conclude that fatherless children are more likely to struggle academically, often scoring poorly on tests around math, reading, and critical thinking. Children exposed to father absence are also more likely to play truant, get excluded from school, and drop out at 16-years-old.
Many children who commit crimes grew up in a fatherless home. For example, research indicates that 85 percent of youth in prison are fatherless. Additionally, children experiencing father absence are more likely to go to jail as adults.
Coping with fatherlessness is not easy for children. Many of them fall into drug and alcohol abuse during their childhood and adulthood. And dependency on drugs and alcohol always leads down a slippery slope.
These five consequences are just a handful of obstacles that kids encounter when there's no father involvement in their daily lives. Other consequences include homelessness, abuse and emotional maltreatment, teenage pregnancy, exploitation, physical health problems, mental health disorders, poor intimate relationships, and mortality.
How to decrease father absence in Eswatini
Reducing father absence in Eswatini will not happen overnight. As with any significant problem that a country faces, it will likely take years to put a dent in the issue. But by implementing three primary solutions, Eswatini can start to decrease the number of fatherless children and restore the family structure.
Most Swazi adults never received a proper education. In fact, there are six barriers to education that tend to keep Swazis from completing their schooling: teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, orphanhood, violence against children, poverty, and poor attitudes about school.
These problems not only affect a Swazi's childhood but also affects their adult life. When they grow up without an education, they're unlikely to get the jobs they need to financially support their children, leading to poverty and then father absence.
However, with more access to education, Swazi boys can get the schooling they need to qualify for great jobs in adulthood, allowing them to provide, support, and be there for their children.
Having ample job opportunities is just as important as having a good education. Without any job prospects, Swazis struggle to make money even when they've completed their schooling.
But this isn't an issue that the government in Eswatini is unaware of — they know there's a need for more job opportunities, and they're doing their best to offer that to Swazis. With their initiatives, Swazi men will have a greater chance to take care of their families and maintain a presence in their children's lives.
Moreover, with Khutsala Artisans operating in Eswatini, Swazi artisans will have an opportunity to work for the company. Khutsala Artisans only hires Swazi adults to help stimulate the economy and provide financial security to families.
In 2018, researchers looked at the Swazis living with HIV/AIDS and found that 92 percent of them had tested for HIV and were aware of their status, which is higher than the 88 percent researchers saw in 2015. Additionally, in 2019, more than 95 percent of adults were on antiretroviral treatments.
However, despite these huge accomplishments in addressing HIV/AIDS, Eswatini mustn't lose the ground it's gained, especially when it comes to men. Research shows that 84 percent of HIV-positive women are aware of their status, while only 75 percent of HIV-positive men are aware of their condition.
This gap results from the general reluctance among men to access healthcare and the inability to find HIV testing sites. But if the government continues to encourage men to get tested, not only will those who are HIV-positive gain access to treatment, but they'll also have a greater chance of surviving to stay in their children's lives.
The importance of fathers
The role a father plays in a kid's life cannot be understated. Fathers help build the foundation for their children's success, well-being, and growth—and without them in the house, their children can suffer throughout their entire lives.
That's why father absence is such a crucial problem to tackle. Whether it's in Eswatini or the U.S., if people do what they can to decrease the number of children living without fathers, kids can have the chance to grow up in a way that benefits them, their families, and society at large.
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