Neglecting maternal depression compromises child health and development outcomes, and violates children’s rights in South Africa

Kebogile Elizabeth Mokwena*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The intention of the South African Children’s Act 38 of 2005 is to provide guarantees for the protection and promotion of optimum health and social outcomes for all children. These guarantees are the provision of basic nutrition, basic health care and social services, optimal family or parental care, as well as protection from maltreatment, neglect and abuse services. However, despite these guarantees, child and maternal mortality remain high in South Africa. The literature identifies maternal depression as a common factor that contributes to negative health and social outcomes for both mothers and their children. Despite the availability of easy-to-use tools, routine screening for maternal depression is not carried out in public health services, which is the source of services for the majority of women in South Africa. The results are that the mothers miss out on being diagnosed and treated for maternal depression, which results in negative child outcomes, such as malnutrition, as well as impacts on mental, social and physical health, and even death. The long-term impacts of untreated maternal depression include compromised child cognitive development, language acquisition and deviant behaviors and economic disadvantage in later life. The author concludes that the neglect of screening for, and treatment of maternal depression therefore violates the constitutional rights of the affected children, and goes against the spirit of the Constitution. The author recommends that maternal and child health services integrate routine screening for maternal depression, which will not only satisfy the Constitutional mandate, but also improve the health and developmental outcomes of the children and reduce child mortality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number609
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Child health
  • Child mortality
  • Cognitive development
  • Developmental outcomes
  • Maternal depression
  • Screening


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