Social Development Deputy Minister, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, has urged law enforcement agencies to consider charging pregnant women who consume alcohol with child abuse. This call came during the 9-9-9 campaign against Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD), a campaign aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The 9-9-9 campaign spanned 9 consecutive days in 9 provinces and culminated in International Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Day on 9 September.
Bogopane-Zulu, who is currently traveling across the country to educate communities about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding, emphasized that women who drink alcohol while pregnant should be held accountable for child abuse, as their actions can lead to FASD. She expressed concern about the prevalence of FASD and the subsequent burden placed on the elderly who often end up caring for children with the disorder. The deputy minister urged pregnant women to prioritize the health of their unborn children by refraining from alcohol consumption during pregnancy. She also highlighted the concerning trend of binge drinking among South African youth and its detrimental effects on society.
The deputy minister emphasized that no amount of alcohol is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and reiterated that while FASD is preventable, it is not reversible. She further explained that excessive alcohol consumption among young people can result in brain damage, including shrinkage in certain areas and impaired communication within the brain.
During her visit to Colesberg, Northern Cape, Bogopane-Zulu encountered a 27-year-old pregnant woman who admitted to drinking alcohol and smoking despite being pregnant. The woman shared that her 6-year-old child, who was born with FASD, is experiencing difficulties in school and is being bullied due to physical differences. Moved by this personal account, the mother pleaded with other pregnant women to abstain from alcohol, emphasizing the adverse effects it can have on unborn children.
South Africa has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having the highest reported prevalence of FASD globally, underscoring the urgency of addressing this issue. As part of her efforts to raise awareness and provide support, the deputy minister inaugurated a stimulation room at the Esidumbini Community Care Centre in Ndwendwe, Kwa-Zulu Natal. This facility will aid in stimulating children with FASD and other disabilities, utilizing specialized equipment to improve movement and brain functioning.
Bogopane-Zulu's commitment to addressing FASD led her to visit the Ikhwezi Lokusa Rehabilitation Centre in Umthatha, Eastern Cape, following a Carte Blanche exposé that uncovered poor conditions and mistreatment of children with disabilities at the Ikhwezi Lokusa Special School.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a condition that results from prenatal alcohol exposure and can cause brain damage and growth problems in children. It is the leading cause of non-genetic developmental and intellectual disabilities worldwide, often resulting in primary and secondary disabilities. Medical experts emphasize that there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
The efforts of Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu and the 9-9-9 campaign serve as crucial steps toward raising awareness about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the importance of protecting the well-being of unborn children.