President Zuma Proposes Practices from Ancient Sparta

March 18, 2015

South African President Jacob Zuma

Mothers in ancient Sparta washed the newborn with wine to ensure it was strong.  Later the baby was brought by its father to the elders, who inspected the newborn carefully. If they found that the child was deformed or weakly they threw it into Kaiada, the so called Apothetae, a chasm at a cliff, of the mount Taygetos. (See http://www.sikyon.com/sparta/agogi_eg.html)

Based on recent media reports, South African President Jacob Zuma has reinterpreted these ancient Sparta practices. According to a media statement released by South African civil society organizations, in addressing the National House of Traditional Leaders, Zuma repeated, by way of reference, shocking comments he first made in 2009 saying that teenage mothers should be separated from their babies until they finish their schooling. “They must be taken and be forced to go to school, far away,” he was quoted as saying by the South African Press Association. “They must be educated by government until they are empowered and they can take care of their kids; take them to Robben Island or any other island, sit there, study until they are qualified to come back and work to look after their kids.”

Does President Zuma have the right to determine who is fit to be a parent? To override free choice in South Africa? Break up families? Separate children from parents? Send young mothers and fathers to an island formerly used as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups, and a military base ?

 

As a parliamentary democracy, South Africa’s constitution provides the legislative backbone of its laws. A quick review of the constitution indicates several relevant articles that bar President Zuma from acting as he proposes:

South Africa Constitution Article

Implication

Chapter 2 (Bill of Rights), Section 9: the right to equality before the law and freedom from discrimination. Prohibited grounds of discrimination include race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. President Zuma cannot discriminate against young mothers and fathers, as he cannot discriminate on grounds of age, pregnancy, or marital  status in South Africa.
Chapter 2 (Bill of Rights) Section 10: the right to human dignity. President Zuma cannot do something that compromises people’s dignity such as removing children from their parent based on age.
Chapter 2 (Bill of Rights) Section 28: children's rights, including the right to a name and nationality, the right to family or parental care, the right to a basic standard of living, the right to be protected from maltreatment and abuse, the protection from inappropriate child labour, the right not to be detained except as a last resort, the paramountcy of the best interests of the child and the right to an independent lawyer in court cases involving the child, and the prohibition of the military use of children. President Zuma cannot refuse children’s right to family or parental protection.

In fact, President Zuma does not have the right to bring about any of the harsh measures he has been presenting that would violate at least three articles of the South Africa Constitution, and trample human rights of its youth. 

There are, in fact, many more productive ways to address issues of teenage pregnancy in South Africa. Just two weeks ago, the government launched the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy-- a progressive, informed and clear strategy for dealing with teenage pregnancy.

President Zuma should instead focus on strategies that combat the causes of these pregnancies such as gender-based violence and gender inequality, poor access to contraceptives, lack of provision for termination of pregnancy services, and the stigmatization of young women’s sexuality. Other contributing factors include a wish to prove they are fertile, a fear of adults’ punishment, peer pressure, worries about confidentiality and pressure from the male partner.

Let’s harness the wisdom of South Africa’s own civil society and work together to reduce gender-based violence, rather than penalize young mothers and fathers.

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