Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Premarital Childbearing in Urban Cameroon: Paternal Recognition, Child Care and Financial Support

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Premarital Childbearing in Urban Cameroon: Paternal Recognition, Child Care and Financial Support

Article excerpt


In many African countries, including Cameroon, an increasing number of urban young women and men postpone their entry into first marriage because of financial constraints and educational opportunities (Cochrane and Farid 1989; Lesthaeghe et al. 1989; Calves 1996). Although they delay marriage, unmarried African youth do not wait for marriage to become sexually active and a growing number of children are born within informal sexual unions (Meekers 1992; Locoh 1994). Some of these informal unions are just a step toward formal marriage and the status of children born within these unions closely resemble those born within a formal marriage (Feyisetan and Bankole 1991; Meekers 1995). However, this is not the case for all children born to single parents. Qualitative evidence suggest that African young men increasingly abscond as soon as they hear their girlfriend is pregnant, fail to recognize their children, and/or do not assume the financial and social responsibilities associated with fatherhood (Bledsoe and Cohen 1993; Launay 1995; Gyepi-Garbrah 1985; Oppong and Wery 1994; Calves 1996). In fact, more than the actual timing of birth and marriage, lack of paternal recognition and paternal support often defines premarital childbearing as a social and economic problem. As Bledsoe and Cohen pointed out (1993), for most African children, "whether the parents have actually concluded a marriage is considerably less important than whether a man is willing to acknowledge fatherhood and to claim the social and economic responsibilities of that role" (p.80).

Several authors have documented the marginalization of unmarried young women and their children due to a lack of support from their partners and their partners' families. The most extreme manifestation of the socioeconomic marginalization of some African children is the increasing number of cases of child abandonment and street children reported in cities (Bledsoe and Cohen 1993; Oppong 1997). More generally, paternal recognition is crucial in establishing a child's economic status, his/her access to wealth and inheritance, and social identity (Nsamenang 1987; Meekers 1994; ACAFEJ 1996) Additionally, although children born without socially recognized fathers belong to their maternal grandfathers, they tend to rank socially below children born within wedlock and to lack access to social network (Laburthe-Tolra 1981; Masquelier 1993; Hakansson 1994).

Despite the importance of the topic, most surveys on fertility and childbearing behavior conducted in sub-Saharan Africa still heavily focus on women and fail to collect information on paternal recognition and paternal support. This lack of information makes it impossible to estimate the prevalence of children born out of wedlock who have not been recognized by their father as well as the effect of lack of paternal recognition on the level of paternal support received by those children. Because quantitative information on paternal recognition is scarce, little is known about what determines young men to acknowledge paternity of some children and not others. Finally, while qualitative evidence suggest that much of the care and financial support of children born out of wedlock comes from maternal grandmothers (Ocholla-Ayayo 1997; Kilbride and Kilbride 1997; Oppong and Wery 1994), the sources of support of those children require further examination.

Thus, the purpose of the present paper is to answer these questions using Yaounde6, the capital city of Cameroon, as a research setting. More specifically, the study explores the determinants of paternal recognition and examines the sources of care and support received by children living with unmarried mothers and how they vary depending on whether a child has a recognized father or not.


In traditional Cameroon, like in many other sub-Saharan African countries, marriage was almost universal across ethnic groups (Brain 1972; Schaller 1973; Laburthe-Tolra 1981). …

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