Zika: single mothers

Zika: single mothers


Single parents are common in Brazil where some studies show as many as 1 in 3 children from poor families grow up without their biological father, but doctors on the frontline of the Zika outbreak say they are concerned about how many mothers of babies with microcephaly are being abandoned.

With the health service already under strain, abortion prohibited, and the virus hitting the poorest hardest, an absent father is yet another burden on mothers already struggling to cope with raising a child that might never walk or talk.

. Campina Grande, Brazil. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

Ianka Barbosa was 7 months pregnant when she found out her child had microcephaly. Before the baby was even born, the father had gone.

Barbosa, 18, blames the break-up on her baby's abnormally small head and brain damage that doctors link to the Zika virus she contracted during pregnancy.

"I think, for him, it was my fault the baby has microcephaly," said Barbosa, wearing a blue dress and cradling tiny two-week old Sophia in a cramped bare brick house where she now lives with her parents in Brazil's northeast.

"When I most needed his help, he left me."

. Campina Grande, Brazil. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

The house, which overlooks a polluted stream on the edge of a poor neighbourhood, is now home to a family of nine. Only Barbosa's father has a job doing occasional building work.

Her ex-partner, Thersio, says he does not see Sophia, but avoids discussing microcephaly and blames Barbosa's parents for the break-up. "I gave her the choice, are you your parents' woman or mine ... And she chose her parents."

. Campina Grande, Brazil. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes
Physiotherapist Jeime Lara Leal exercises 19-day-old Sophia.

At a specialised microcephaly clinic in Campina Grande, psychologist Jacqueline Loureiro works with mothers to help them cope with stress and trauma. Of the 41 women she counsels, she says only 10 receive adequate financial or emotional support from their partners.

"At first many of the women say they have a partner, but as you get to know them better you realise the father is never around and the baby and mother have effectively been abandoned," Loureiro said.

Loureiro blames Brazil's macho culture, which she says is particularly strong in the northeast.


Few Brazilian jobs give enough flexibility for parents to better share the responsibility of looking after a child with special needs. This is made even more difficult as parents must often travel for hours to visit the few specialised clinics operating in Brazil.

At the clinic in Campina Grande, 20-year-old Rogerio dos Santos is one of only two fathers present. Standing in the whitewashed corridor, he says he's shocked by the tales of fathers abandoning their children but says it has been hard to get time off at the gas station where he works.

For fathers like dos Santos, the support network in Brazil is lacking. Whereas the clinic runs a support group for the mothers, there is no specific help offered for fathers.

. Algodao De Jandaira, Brazil. Reuters/Ricardo Moraes

In the small town of Algodao de Jandaira, an hour from Campina Grande, Josemary da Silva pours a cold bath to relieve her son Gilberto from the relentless heat. The five-month-old baby with microcephaly stops crying briefly as he is washed in a pale blue plastic tub.

The father, after whom Gilberto is named, first saw his son one month after he was born and has rarely visited since. Two months ago he stopped contributing the $30 a month he had paid to help da Silva care for the child.

"He says he loves him. But what kind of love is this," she says as Gilberto starts to cry again.