Claudine Cassar | Sunday, 20 September 2009

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The flaws in taking on single mothers

Finance Minister Tonio Fenech announced that his ministry is currently reviewing the benefits given to single mothers. Apparently the ministry is concerned about the fact that several single mothers are not going out to work because they are living a comfortable life receiving benefits. Reducing their benefits, or making it harder for them to receive them, should presumably send these single mothers out in droves to get a job.
It is easy to agree with the minister in principle. However in practice, as a mother myself, I can see many flaws in the argument. Yes, it would be ideal if all single mothers could go out to work and earn a living for themselves and their children. The reality, however, is that unless something is done to provide a support network for these women it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to get a job outside the home.
Where will the single mum leave her child when she is working? What if she does not earn enough to be able to afford childcare? Can a single mum have a full time job if she needs to collect her kids from school? (Hopefully Klabb 3-16 will help here). What will the single mum do when her kids are sick/on holiday?
These are realities that need to be addressed before we can moralise about single mothers joining the workforce.
I therefore would expect a revision of these benefits to be part of a comprehensive plan, ranging from the launch of training schemes for these women to get marketable skills (in order to earn a decent salary) to the introduction of seriously subsidised day care facilities empowering single women to work.
It is already hard enough for a woman to get a job when she has a husband/partner to help her out. Going it alone must be much harder, so we need to help single mothers get on their feet if we want them to become productive members of our society.
The reality is that in Malta there are 3,650 single parent families with one or more dependent children – of these, a full 54% (a total of 5,450 persons) are at risk of poverty. Children born to single mothers are clearly at a disproportionate risk of poverty, with all its related ills. This means that the team entrusted to review the social benefits given to these families need to be very careful not to increase the hardship suffered by these children.
Obviously social benefit abuse needs to be minimised. This does not apply only to benefits received by single mothers, but all types of benefits. Help should be given to those who really need help, while the rest should grow up and fend for themselves.
In the UK they have an excellent series of adverts – it shows people abusing social benefits, and neighbours and families noticing their behaviour and reporting it. Basically the message is that everyone will get caught in the end. This is what needs to happen in Malta across the board – on VAT receipts, on unemployment benefit, and on all types of social assistance. However at the end of the day the weak need to be supported, and in this case, where it is children at risk, we really cannot afford to take any risks.

Use a condom!
A discussion regarding single mothers would not be complete without addressing the reason many women become single mothers in the first place – unprotected sex. Young people take risks – we all know that. However denying our youngsters a proper sex education is definitely an aggravating factor in the equation.
It is all fine and dandy to lecture kids about the importance of abstinence and waiting for true love. However try telling that to a randy 15-year-old who has just started experimenting with his or her sexuality. These kids need to learn how to practice safe sex, in order to avoid unwanted outcomes such as unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.
There is no way around it. We have to stop trying to be holier than the pope, and have a serious debate regarding sex education.
25% of all babies born last year were born outside of marriage, 9% more than the previous year. 250 of these babies were born to teenage mothers. These statistics should be the last nail in the coffin of Abstinence-Only sex education programmes. Several studies worldwide have already indicated that such programmes are not effective. A federally funded study in the US, conducted by the Mathematica Policy Research Inc., published in April of 2007, found that “participants had just as many sexual partners as nonparticipants and had sex at the same median age as nonparticipants.”
In other words, abstinence-only sex education is not effective. Even more problematic is the fact that abstinence-only campaigns give youngsters a negative view of condoms and other contraceptives – meaning that when these kids have sexual encounters, they are more likely to take part in unsafe sex.
Let’s face it, if you tell kids that condoms are not safe and that they have holes in them, why on earth should they use them when they finally decide to have intercourse? That is why the statistics show that kids who are subjected to abstinence-only campaigns use fewer contraceptives when they become sexually active. This results in more unwanted pregnancies and more STDs.
We need to go down the ABC route – Abstain, Be Faithful, use a Condom.
Now that is not too hard, is it?


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