Mothers-to-be in one of South Africa's poorest areas are drinking large amounts of cheap, illegal alcohol to deliberately damage their unborn babies - just so they can claim disability benefit. Life is so tough with unemployment high and crime rampant in South Africa's Eastern Cape, that a newborn baby represents a form of income for the mothers. State benefits mean 250 South African rand (£20) per child per month for an impoverished family. But disability allowance is a far more lucrative 1200 rand a month (£85).
It has led to a spike in the numbers of babies born with disabilities. Mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy run a far higher risk of giving
birth to a child born with what is known as
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). The condition is usually
irreversible and can mean speech problems, physical deformities, learning
difficulties and behavioural issues. More than three-quarters of the children at the Miracle Kids Centre in
Helenvale suffer from FASD.
The centre manager Genevieve Hendricks says the children struggle at school,
end up dropping out and then many turn to crime to get by. "It's so sad to see," she says. "But we
need to educate these mothers to know they are causing a lifetime of
difficulties." The Eastern Cape Liquor Board has now been prompted to launch a campaign to
educate young mothers about the dangers of drinking heavily whilst pregnant.
South Africa has had the highest number of FASD cases in the world since
2002, according to the World Health Organisation. Many of the problems link back to the prevalence of illegal shebeens, or
drinking houses, where homemade, highly addictive and damaging alcohol is sold
cheaply. For about two rand (14p), you can buy a litre of kah-kah as the locals
call it. The police continually conduct raids on the shebeens, closing them down and
throwing away the illegal alcohol. But no sooner one is shut down, another