How Many Men are Fathers in South Africa?

There are no direct estimates available on the number of men in South Africa who are fathers. This question was explored by Posel and Devey, who arrived at 47% of men as fathers for 1998, with a combination of population and household level statistics. We revisited the question based on data from the General Household Survey 2016:

We assume that the numbers of mothers and fathers are about the same and that the fact that the median number of children per household with children (two) permits the assumption that women with children have an average of about two children.The estimated 18,565,190 children in South Africa in 2016 would, between them, have 9,282,595 mothers and 9,282,595 fathers. This is about 53% of the total adult male population aged 18 – 59 years (17,527,315). Therefore, from this calculation, just over half of the number of adult men in the country are likely to be biological fathers.

The fact that fathers may have procreated children with several mothers, and that mothers may have borne children fathered by more than one man, make even the first assumption a rough one. However, while the biological relationship between a mother and a child is usually relatively easily established, this is not the case for men who are fathers. The latter may not know of their status as parents, or may not be willing to report on their fatherhood even if they do know.

new parental leave provisions in South Africa

Parliament’s National Assembly in late 2017 approved a bill that will initiate new parental leave provisions that allow fathers to qualify for 10 days of paid leave.2 Ten days may not seem much for a new father, but the bill is a landmark achievement for various reasons: it establishes

a few important principles in the South African labour law framework, including gender-neutral language for parental leave, dedicated leave for adoptive parents and commissioning parents in a surrogacy agreement, and allows for same-sex couples to qualify for parental leave.


The bill has been the result of consistent advocacy by various groups and individuals from civil society. Due in part to pressure from Sonke Gender Justice in 2013, the White Paper on Families mandated government to investigate the feasibility of paternity leave in South Africa. In 2014, a father of two, Hendri Terblanche, lodged a petition to Parliament that called for 10 days of paternity leave, which drew substantial media exposure, with support from Sonke.

Based on the first draft by Terblanche, an African Christian Democratic Party Member of Parliament, Cheryl- lyn Dudley, presented a Private Members’ Bill to Parliament in 2016, which was passed by the National Assembly in 2017.

What the new provisions say

The amendments increase the maximum amount paid for the existing maternity leave provision to 66%. It also introduces paid parental leave of 10 days for parents that do not qualify for maternity leave. Fathers make up the largest group of such parents, so in effect, paternity leave will be available. However, it is important to note that the bill does not define it as paternity leave as it allows for all genders and sexual orientations. This progressive bill also introduces adoption leave of 10 weeks for surrogacy commissioning and adoptive parents from the day of placement in the case of adoption.

Due to parenting leave only being available to employed people, the leave will not offer support to parents who are not in employment; but it is nevertheless an important development for greater gender equality between parents.