Ms Sphindile Maphumulo recently received her master’s degree. Her study focused on “Perceptions of women in the informal economy on childcare practices in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal”.
Women working in the informal sector need quality childcare services to be productive in their work and make enough money to provide for their children and the household. Women are facing dual responsibilities, that is, productive and reproductive work, which are often in conflict with each other. Poor working conditions, the absence of social protection and low incomes hinder women’s ability to best care for their children. The aim of this study was to obtain informally working women’s perceptions on how they care for their children while pursuing their livelihood. This study adopted a qualitative approach where in-depth interviews were conducted with 28 women who had children between 0-5 years and with three key informants from the Department of Social Development. Twelve of 28 mothers were taken from a cohort longitudinal study consisting of 24 participants. A thematic analysis was performed where the researcher developed coding themes based on the study objectives. All research protocols were observed.
Results showed that women were struggling to balance work and childcare. Financial needs forced women to invest most of their time in paid work. This affected childcare practices such as feeding and the mother-child relationship. Most mothers who had children aged 0-6 months failed to adhere to feeding practices as recommended by the World Health Organization, namely, to breastfeed infants for six months before introducing complementary foods. Mothers who were able to adhere to those recommendations took six months off work, or worked with the child or expressed breast milk to feed the child when away from the baby. Mothers were working long hours with most of them working between five to seven days a week. Some of the mothers were not living with their children. Family members, non-relatives and crèches assisted mothers in caring for the child while mothers were at work. Some mothers were working with their children, particularly home-based workers and breastfeeding mothers. While mothers with children older than three years used crèches during the day (08h00-16h00), family members or neighbours took over childcare until the mother returned from work.
The study concludes that lack of income compromised childcare practices among informally working women. Although mothers had people assisting them with childcare, the quality of mother-child relationship was adversely affected. According to attachment theory, this means that the children of such a population are experiencing maternal deprivation which has a life-long effect. The study recommends that financial assistance during the early part of a child’s life is required among informally working women to promote optimum childcare. Furthermore, affordable but quality childcare services must be available to such women to promote early childhood development and prevent intergenerational poverty.