Ten years after tik exploded on to the Cape Flats, the effect on children whose mothers used the drug while pregnant has made its presence felt in schools.
The “tik generation” is now in primary school and teachers are reporting severe behavioural problems and mental health problems akin to foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
One principal said he doubted that many of the tik generation pupils would make it to high school.
Community activist Venetia Orgill said one generation had already been lost and future generations would be too unless something drastic was done.
The provincial Education Department does not track the effects of tik on education. Department spokeswoman Bronagh Casey said: “We do not have stats or details on cases that deal specifically with tik.”
But principals and activists say there is definitely an increase in the number of children seeking treatment for mental health conditions and schools are taking strain.
While unable to provide statistics, provincial Health Department spokeswoman Faiza Steyn said there was an increased need for mental health treatment among children.
A 2006 study showed 10 percent of pregnant women in the Tygerberg area used the drug during their pregnancies.
Orgill said that in some of the classrooms she had seen, almost half of the children displayed FAS-like symptoms. FAS is characterised by brain damage, facial deformities and growth deficits.
Dawn Petersen, principal of Hanover Park’s Blomvlei Primary, and Albert Arendse, principal of Bridgeville Primary in Bridgetown, said they were doing what they could in a “crisis of major proportions”.
Petersen said parents as young as 22 were enrolling their children in Grade R. She suspected many of the children had been exposed to tik.
“It is a sad state of affairs. It has become acceptable for a teenager to be pregnant and on drugs,” she said.
The mayoral committee member for health, Lungiswa James, said they were seeing “many pregnant women, young mothers or mothers with young children addicted to tik”.
James said tik babies were usually hyperactive and developed at a slower rate.
Children were also increasingly been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, and showed increasingly risky and deviant behaviour.
Confirming this from a provincial perspective, Steyn acknowledged the increase and said it was placing an additional burden on the state to provide health and social development services to affected children.
Robert Macdonald, head of the provincial Social Development Department, said that while the provincial government had not investigated the impact which children of tik-addicted parents had on government services, they displayed the same type of symptoms as children with FAS.
“Since 2010 we have implemented our strategy and for the second year we have expanded our services and doubled our budget for substance abuse.”
UWC psychology lecturer Charl Davids said not much research on tik use during pregnancy had been done.
But he also spoke about the similarities between tik children and FAS. He said there would be little or no impulse control because of what happens to the baby’s brain during gestation.
He said school psychologists were dealing with an ever-increasing case load.
Davids said more and more companies were approaching them for help as they were picking up that their staff, who were more often than not parents, were using tik.
He said government services, education, social development and health needed to work closer together to deal with what was a “big problem”.
Schools say the WCED’s attempts fall far too short from the real need. One principal, who did not want to be named, said the department had no idea what was truly going on.
Tik affects babies just like
Children born to women who use tik during pregnancy display similar traits to children with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
It is estimated that SA has 4 000 reported new cases of FAS every year, the highest in the world. Most of these cases are reported in the Northern and Western Cape.
FAS describes children who have growth deficiencies, irreversible mental retardation as well as physical and central nervous system abnormalities due to their mothers’ alcohol intake during pregnancy.
The effects of FAS are permanent and irreversible. There is no cure or treatment. FAS seriously impairs a child’s lifetime ability to function mentally, physically and socially.
Experts believe that between one- and two-thirds of all children with special educational needs were affected by their mothers’ alcohol intake during pregnancy.
Although FAS is the most common preventable form of intellectual disability in the world and continues to be a serious public health problem in the Western Cape, it is preventable by women refraining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy