South Africa has ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This obliges the State to give effect to the CEDAW provisions and report on progress in this regard every four years. The South African State most recently submitted a report covering the period 1998 to 2008 in 2010. A number of civil society organisations developed a shadow report (prepared by Advocacy Aid) which was submitted in response to the State Report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against women in January 2011.
The Shadow Report observes that, despite the state's commitment to modify social and cultural behaviour patterns which are based on stereotyped notions about the roles of men and women and to engage in advocacy to raise awareness of and promote common responsibilities of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children, South African women carry significantly disproportionate parent burdens. The Report notes that almost half of the men in South Africa are absent fathers who, by virtue of their physical absence, cannot and do not share full parenting responsibilities with the mothers of their children. The Shadow Report further notes that the State report is silent on this phenomenon and the steps, if any, by the government to promote the recognition and assumption of the parenting roles and responsibilities of fathers.
The Shadow Report refers to a study by the Human Sciences Research Council which estimates that in South Africa, 57% of children under the age of 15 do not live with their fathers. Only 11.5% do not do so because he is deceased; 45.8% of children's fathers are alive, but absent. The racial and rural bias is strong. Less than 40% of African children lived with their father, compared to almost 90% of white children. African children in rural areas are the worst affected: 55% of them do not live with their fathers, and a further 12.5% of children's fathers have died.
A small-scale study on absent fathers in KwaZulu-Natal suggests that the majority of absent fathers do not only fail to provide material or emotional support to their children, but do not see the benefit of forming permanent relationships with the mothers of their children.