Foetal alcohol syndrome is not only caused by mothers who drink but by fathers as well.
Rozelle George, from the City of Cape Town’s Women for Change programme, sounded this warning about the damage fathers can do to their unborn children. She was speaking at a workshop in Bonteheuwel last week that spelled out the dangers of substance abuse.
Her message dispels the often-held notion that only mothers who drink are to blame for the condition that stunts a child’s development and leads to other abnormalities.
Various organisations took part in the two-day programme at the Bonteheuwel civic centre, including Wynberg-based, Mosaic, Early Childhood Development, Hope House Counselling Centre which has an office in Bergvliet, the City of Cape Town’s Manenberg Matrix Site, and the TB and HIV/Aids Care organisation.
Programme co-ordinator Jeremy Lewis and Ward 50 councillor, Angus Mckenzie, also visited Arcadia and Bonteheuwel high schools last week to warn pupils about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
Substance abuse was rife in Bonteheuwel and spawned other problems, including unprotected sex, teenage pregnancy and unemployment, to name a few, said Mr Lewis. There are similar social problems in many impoverished communities in Cape Town.
Grants were often the only source of income in the community.
“That is not viable because the child is not looked after, but instead the money goes to the shebeen, or the merchant or for money-lending.
“So the child suffers. They don’t get proper nutrition and are not schooled or clothed properly.”
And gangsterism bred a relentless fear that made it hard for ordinary members of the community to get help or advice.
“If you come from a certain side of the area, then you are marked as being part of that turf and they will target you for walking in a different turf.”
Ms George described the tragic effects of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) – a cluster of conditions resulting from alcohol use during pregnancy, of which foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe.
“The various effects include a smaller baby, a baby who cries a lot, their ears are much lower and the weight and development of the baby is much weaker, the baby will also shiver a lot. The baby may appear normal but once the child reaches school-going age the teachers will pick it up.”
And she warned that fathers who used alcohol at the time of the baby’s conception and even through the pregnancy could also contribute to a FASD diagnosis.
“It stays in their sperm, and that can also harm the baby, and many people don’t know that,” she said.
Maria October, from Wynberg-based Mosaic, said substance abuse was often linked to domestic violence.
“As soon as someone becomes intoxicated, they have the courage to do anything including committing acts of violence. We are here to advise women and men who have been abused and also to inform them about protection orders,” she said.
Hope House Counselling Centre provides a free drug-rehabilitation programme at 20 schools in the Kuils River and Retreat areas.
The aim of the programme is to help pupils get off drugs or alcohol through a 12-week programme without them missing out on their schooling.
The centre’s school programme manager, Nicky Retief, said that of the 26 people who had come to them for advice during the two-day programme, five had tested positive for substance abuse.
“We are here to offer advice for substance abusers or their families. Through the programme at schools, we have rehabilitated over 200 pupils so far… and 85% of those pupils were still at school last year,” she said.