Childhood motherhood – yarns from my Aunt

Portrait of African child and mother in the hut, location Mmankodi village

Tragically, there is a growing incidence in South Africa and worldwide of childhood motherhood.

Anna’s story

A yarn from my aunt

Anna* was a delightful little girl who was brought to live on our property at the age of three under the care of our domestic worker, Matilda,* eleven years ago.  Matilda had only one child, a daughter who is now in her twenties, but has raised, protected and loved so many more babies and small children who have been brought to her doorstep.

The arrival of each new charge has sometimes been prompted by the desperation of these very young mothers, many of them foreigners and some affected by the zenophobia which often characterises the atmosphere in South Africa.

Some of ‘our’ babies have stayed with their mothers for only six to eight weeks, while Matilda encourages them in the arts of breastfeeding, burping, nappy changing, even self-care and perseverance.

Currently, we have the most delightful 14 month old boy who spends three days a week with us while his parents are both work.

In Anna’s case, Matilda was asked to foster her by parents who were, and still are, running a shebeen which is an informal pub in Alexandra, an over-crowded, crime-ridden settlement where children are not safe.

She was a delightful part of our family until she was about 12 years old. Then she was quite suddenly whisked back to Alex by her parents. Perhaps they considered her old enough to help in the shebeen?

Within a year, she was pregnant. She gave birth a month after turning 14, to a beautiful, healthy son.

Anna appeared to enjoy early motherhood and turned down all suggestions that a wonderful place like Hotel Hope would take care of her baby while she completed school. Her son would be returned to her once she had found stability in the form of a home and some means of supporting and raising him.

Young and immature, she believed she knew better, and indeed everything appeared to be well for two years, or more.

The consequences for her baby boy

Anna’s son is three now and she has disappeared. This little boy is living in the shebeen with his grandparents who do not want the burden.

Many young women in this situation have been forced into prostitution in order to survive.

Anna is one of hundreds of thousands of South African children whose lives are ruined for ever by teenage pregnancy and the inability to bear the responsibilities of motherhood – especially as absentee fathers are the norm.

Not to mention the utter devastation for the lives of hundreds of thousands of unwanted and innocent babies.

Ronda Lowrie, Knit-a-square South Africa.
* The names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Childhood motherhood – the bigger picture

In the scheme of human suffering, there is little to match losing or being abandonned by your parents at a tender age. The World Health Organisation estimates there will be 40 million children so affected by the year 2020.

According to the lead researcher and author, Nancy Williamson, PhD, in the document titled, Motherhood in childhood,  20,000 girls give birth every day.

It is almost impossible to comprehend how so many children might find themselves alone and unloved. Or to fully understand the plight of their very young mothers without prospects, also alone and unloved or faced with prostitution as the only means by which they can live.

And yet, as citizens of the world, we need to grapple with the underlying causes and work together to affect change beyong giving condoms to boys as young as ten, as is recommended in South Africa.

What can we do?

It is the weight of stories shared that can begin to affect change. So start by sharing stories like this wide and far so that at the very least people are more aware of the extent of this tragedy.

Write a story

Why not do your own research and write the stories as you find out more about this issue. We would be delighted to publish them and share them widely with our world wide community. Send them to

Support those who are doing good work

Then find and support organisations that work on the ground to give a home, support, comfort, therapy and education to these abandonned and worse, prostituted children.

There are many organisations doing incredible work on behalf of teenage mothers or their abandonned offspring. We know of two, Hotel Hope in Gauteng and Rafiki Mawema in Kenya.

We are actively seeking to support such organisations and would love to find out about others.

And, if you love to knit or crochet, then send an 8” square to Knit-a-square South Africa. You can find the instructions for postage here.

Every square goes into a lovingly made blanket to be wrapped around the shoulders of small, orphaned or vulnerable children.

Every blanket is delivered with a message of love

The blankets not only warm these desperate children, but bring hope to the carers that they’re not entirely alone in their tireless, but committed mission to look after these children.

We implore you to find ways that you can contribute.  Even in the smallest way, every little bit of support can help change these precious lives.