24 April 2023 | Story Amanda Tongha | Photo Supplied
Portia Khate
Portia Khate’s personal experience of heading a household as a young adult led her to study the dynamics of child-headed households. The UFS staff member obtained her master’s in Gender Studies at the UFS April graduation ceremonies.

Taking care of her younger sibling in her matric year laid the foundation for Portia Khate to become a multi-graduate. Faced with her mother’s death in her final school year, Khate had to take care of her younger relative, suddenly becoming the head of the household. 

This experience led the University of the Free State staff member to embark on an academic journey to explore how child-headed households impact the lives of those experiencing it. Her interest in this subject was the topic for her master’s degree, which she obtained during the UFS April graduation ceremonies. The Senior Assistant Officer in the UFS Centre for Gender and Africa Studies received her degree during the Faculty of the Humanities ceremony on 22 April 2023. 

Khate said heading a household as a young adult gave her unique insight into the resilience and coping mechanisms employed growing up in a home without adults.  

“I believe research must not only be about issues far from us, but it must also be investigated first-hand to look for evidence to confirm or refute our perception or ideas regarding specific phenomena that we live or experience daily.” 

Missed childhood experiences

Her research study, titled Parenthood Dynamics in Mangaung: The Experiences of Black Women as former heads of child-headed households, concludes that those who headed households when they were young had to mature very early, missing out on their childhood, as artificial motherhood was imposed on them.

Khate said obtaining her master’s degree in Gender Studies means she can help tackle gender inequalities in South Africa. She believes that child-headed household are a gendered phenomenon; female children (the eldest) are often in the front line, keeping their families together after their parents’ death. This, on its own, reflects the unequal roles in child-headed households, where female children are responsible for nurturing the younger siblings. In contrast, male children are expected to work or sometimes study further. And very often, girl children drop out of school to ensure that the needs and wants of their siblings are taken care of.

Talking about her own experiences, the Odendaalsrus-born Khate recalled difficult situations she had to face. 
“Being head of the household was very challenging, considering we were still in school, with limited resources and less support system. However, by the grace of God, everything turned out for the better because here I am today, a multi-graduate, something that my parents, particularly my mom, always wanted for me. All this is for my mother, I am sure she is a very happy angel, smiling every time she sees me succeed academically.”

The road to graduation 

Khate is thankful for the support from UFS academics, colleagues, and family on her journey to the UFS graduation stage to collect her master’s degree. 

“The support of my supervisor, co-supervisor, and line manager all turned out for the best, and I have to say I am very grateful for the roles they played in ensuring a smooth completion. My colleague Ankia Bradfield supported me so much, especially when I felt like I wanted to give up. My husband and child also pushed me when I was slacking.”
Her next mission is to enrol for her doctoral studies. 

“Well, the sky is the limit. I will grab every opportunity to study further if given, but even if I must chase it myself – PhD, here I come.”

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful. To better understand how they are used, read more about the UFS cookie policy. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.