Stemming the war on women
The apparent crackdown on women who leave their children unattended at home to pursue personal recreation opens a rare window into the challenges and perils of single parenthood.
What it reveals about the state of women, family and children in this society is something we risk missing completely if we persist in the superficial and damaging recourse to punishing mothers while allowing fathers to go scot-free.
As they are brought before the courts charged with child abandonment, the women appear friendless, devoid of any morsel of sympathy from a public which, regardless of educational background, retains the deeply entrenched view that a woman's place is in the home. Men, on the other hand, are free to wander, in many cases leaving their children unattended for entire life-times.
It goes without saying that our children must be protected by their parents, by the community and by institutions designed to support and serve.
Neighbours who seek the help of the police for neglected and abandoned children are performing noble service, as are the police who go to the rescue of such children.
But we part company with a court system that, increasingly, seems inclined to solve a glaring social problem by bringing the weight of the law down on offending mothers alone.
It would surprise nobody if it turns out that mothers who leave their children to go out and party were themselves victims of such bad parenting and are now living out the one example of parenting they know.
Putting a mother on bond is meaningless unless it comes with a more holistic support and development programme designed to alter behaviour and break the cycle of parental abuse.
What is needed is greater emphasis on causal factors in order to prescribe approaches that could help turn the rising tide of family and social breakdown.
In this, the courts are a powerful point of intervention, with magistrates having the right to command state resources in support of women whose behaviour puts their children at risk.
The tide of breakdown will not be stopped by ostracising and punishing mothers but by a greater investment in strengthening the social fabric. We need to make much greater use of the education system's capacity to reach everyone, from early childhood to tertiary levels. Within the system itself, we need pro-active capabilities for detecting and responding to problem cases. We need stronger communities with families that support each other through crises and we need a public that is fully informed about the available range of social services and the means for accessing them.
Above all, we need to drag ourselves and our institutions out of the dark-ages thinking which never questions the role of men in the family but is ever willing to heap blame on women, many of whom believe that they are doing the best they can which, as we know, is very far from being even good enough.