Plea for communities to look after children

Empilweni manager, Lulama, Mfuniselwa is concerned about the growing number of young mothers who might have mental health problems.

Boys and girls between the ages of four and 18 who live in the township are among the most vulnerable in society and prone to mental illnesses, especially young mothers.

This is according to Empilweni – A place of healing, a mental health centre for children and families based in Khayelitsha.

The NPO said it has discovered that many teenagers suffer from illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder due to family issues, the way they are treated by society and the lack of support.

According to Empilweni manager, Lulama Mfuniselwa, young people, especially girls, are badly affected.

He said girls from as young as 12 are becoming mothers. He said by the age of 16 or 17 some of them already have two children.

He attributed this to the lack of family support and the problem of society blaming children for their circumstances.

Mr Mfuniselwa said such children needed love and attention, but instead, found themselves isolated.

“(Just like boys) they are affected by mental health issues. But with them, there is a lot. Some become the source of income at an early age. There are rapes by close relatives, biological fathers, uncles, step-fathers or a respected man in society.

“We then judge them instead of getting to the root of the problem. You find some of them smoking or having difficulty concentrating on school work because they cannot sleep at night. The schools are not helping too because they chuck them out of school simply because they are mothers. All these come in the form of punishment, not discipline,” Mr Mfuniselwa told Vukani.

He warned that if parents and society continued to punish instead of help children, the country’s future was at risk.

“Parents need to open up their hearts and minds. We are not saying they should fall pregnant, but we are saying get to the problem and know the causes. Teenage pregnancy is a huge matter. Let us prevent it. Hence our slogan: the problem is not with a child, the problem is in the family, the community, and what surrounds the child,” he said.

Empilweni has a range of programmes to help young people and works in partnership with the Department of Social Development.

“Emotionally shattered children grow up to be dysfunctional, or worse still, destructive adults, they lead desperate adult lives, are poor parents, and put our already fragile communities at risk. Anxiety, depression, grief, suicidal tendencies, behavioural disorders, learning difficulties and neglect are evidence of the inner catastrophe that these young people are experiencing, and with who Empilweni works,” it reads on their website.

They provide one-on-one counselling to troubled children and youth in Khayelitsha, Mfuleni, and the surrounds.

They said the partnership works to address the many and often unique challenges that these teenagers face and for which society is ill prepared and ill equipped to address.

The NPO also offers a psychiatric clinic, community outreach, youth and child support groups, as well as support groups for children affected by gender violence, a peer support group and parents’ groups. They also work with children affected by HIV/Aids.

Mr Mfuniselwa concluded by saying that the community has a responsibility to look after its young people.

Asked for comment on mental health, the Western Cape Health Department deals with a considerable number of cases regarding mental health in the area.

It said the mental health service at Khayelitsha Hospital works closely with the community based services and NPOs.

Sithembiso Magubane, principal communications officer; Khayelitsha and Eastern Substructure said there are formal scheduled contact sessions with community-based services and NPO’s monthly.

He said there is also an ongoing interaction and feedback between stakeholders.

“A multidisciplinary team meeting takes place on a regular basis where various stakeholders in the mental health service discuss challenges and specific challenging cases. The stakeholders include the hospital team, clinical teams, nursing teams, allied health teams, psychology, CBS and NPOs,” he said.

He added that home visits are conducted to follow up on patients’ adherence to compliance with treatment plans, medication, follow up, and others.

Mr Magubane said his department provides funding to a number of these NPOs and some are receiving funding from the Department of Social Development and external funders.

Contat Empilweni – A place of healing on 021 361 7063 or email

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