n Child Abuse Research in South Africa - A criminological perspective on the prenatal abuse of substances during pregnancy and the link to child abuse in South Africa

Volume 11, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1562-1383



The increase in drug abuse in South Africa has had major social implications in the country. Problems associated with drug dependency are poverty, unemployment, a heavier burden on the health care system, the disintegration of family systems and drug-related crimes. Another area of concern is the link between drug abuse and child abuse. While child abuse is a crime in South Africa, the law does not consider the abuse of drugs during pregnancy as a crime and research on prenatal drug abuse as a form of child abuse is still limited. The issue of prenatal drug abuse as a crime is controversial, to say the least, since society tends to take two stances regarding the use and abuse of psychoactive substances during pregnancy. The harm reduction approach views prenatal drug abuse as a social welfare issue, whereas the punitive approach views the abuse of substances during pregnancy as a crime. Drug-related child abuse cannot be looked at simplistically by merely assessing the physical damage sustained at birth. Harm done to the foetus may result in lifelong problems for the child. Literature on the subject indicates that drug abuse does cause harm to the foetus but that this level of harm in each case should be individualized. Some studies show that substance abuse treatment during pregnancy has been proved to be effective in both reducing the risk of drug exposure before birth and improving the drug user's parenting skills. The paper highlights the situation in South Africa regarding the problem of drug dependency by pregnant mothers, and makes recommendations for further research on prenatal substance abuse. In addition, a call is made for the development of a drug policy dealing with drug dependency in the pregnant mother. Research is also necessary to determine whether drug policy should bring about the criminalization of substance abuse by pregnant women.

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