Missing fathers in child care

Mzuzu Child Justice Court user Falesi Nthala

Mzuzu, August 01: Her first child (let’s call him Noel) faced rejection when she was three months pregnant for him.

He threw me out of his house, and called me a prostitute, just because I refused to abort the pregnancy, she recalls.

Four years later, Noel’s half brother faced a similar fate.

When I was four months pregnant, he called me from South Africa where he stays and ordered me to leave his house because he wanted to reunite with his first wife.

He ordered me to go back to my parents’ home and promised to send me money so that I can find a house for rent.

Five years down the line, I am still waiting for the fulfillment of that promise, says Falesi Nthala, 26, while suppressing tears.

When she got married in 2012, it was a relief to her parents because in her community of Msongwe in Mzuzu City, keeping a fully grown woman with an illegitimate child in their house was a pain the Nthala family endured in silence.

However, their happiness was short lived because barely five months into her marriage, she was sent back to them with another pregnancy to care for.

The pain that I felt that day was not only because I had been kicked out of my matrimonial home, but also for my parents who now had to face the double shame of taking me in.

Today, it is not easy for me to look after two boys whose fathers are nowhere to be seen because even my parents already have a huge responsibility of looking after my siblings, she says.

Falesi, who is now earning a living from a housekeeping job, is one of the many women seeking Mzuzu Child Justice Court services after men abandoned them with children to care for.

When I had my first child, it was not possible for me to come and seek this court’s services because his father had already declared that he did not want to be involved in anything concerning the child.

However, for my second son, I made up my mind to seek the court’s intervention so that the father, who is in South Africa but has relatives here, can take responsibility of the boy, she says.

Meanwhile, First Grade Magistrate Lillian Munthali says the Mzuzu Child Justice Court is overwhelmed by increased cases of child maintenance as it now handles a minimum of 10 cases per day.

Last year, the court registered 309 child maintenance cases, becoming the highest record of all cases registered in a year.

Indeed, a visit to the court shows a lot of women around the premises; some with a kid or two waiting to be assisted on child maintenance issues.

Munthali says what makes matters worse is the fact that some men and women appearing before the court or seeking maintenance are frequent clients.

For example, there is a man who is answering a child maintenance case, he had a similar case few months ago, had one with my predecessor too but with different women.

Similarly, we have had women who would be seeking the same from different men at different occasions, she explains.

She, however, states that the court’s hands are tied on the issue because it looks to be more of a moral problem.

Otherwise, how can we deal with a man who earns K20, 000 per month but has several children with different women?

What about the women? Could we say they are unfortunate all the time? she wonders.

With this, Munthali says, it is hard to be optimistic about the fate of those children whose mothers come to court seeking maintenance.

To be honest, it is hard to give an assurance that their children are liberated from the pains of neglect because we can ask the men to pay, but they may decide not to. Some of them pay only first month and are nowhere to be seen thereafter.

I wonder what kind of example is being set for the coming generation considering that the people in question are all within the age group of 18-30 years, she says.

District Social Welfare Officer responsible for Mzimba North Edward Chisanga says the increased cases are a proof that people no longer respect the institution of marriage in which children ought to be cared for.

Most of the victimized women come from what we call ‘loose marriages’ in which men settle with a woman on temporary basis and are not willing to take the responsibility of raising the children, he says.

Chisanga further says most men that desert their children do so because, in the first place, they do not have intention to be in a serious relationship with their partners hence engage in casual sex.

From our research, as an office, we also discovered that most girls get carried away with men who are in mobile jobs like those working with construction companies. As soon as their contract ends, the men migrate to another area leaving the young women with the burden of raising the kids.

It is also these same girls who later dump the babies in sewages or toilets because they do not have the financial muscle to support a child, he says.

Chisanga concurs with Munthali that this is a moral problem the court cannot address on its own.

The man may appear before court and agree to the arrangement of paying the charged fees, but it is hard for the court to follow-up on his commitment after the case leaves court, he says.

Like many other young women in her situation, Falesi is finding it difficult to provide basic needs for her two boys.

Even though I have a job, but the money I get is just too little to pay for their daily needs.

For example, my youngest son is now five years and seven months old which means he ought to be in elementary school; but how can I pay his school fees? What about food and other basic needs? she says while fighting back tears.

Section 3 of Malawi’s Child Care, Protection and Child Justice Act says every parent has a responsibility to provide proper care, assistance and maintenance for the child including adequate diet, clothing, shelter and medical attention to ensure his or her survival and development.

The law also empowers the court to award maintenance to the child including periodic expenses, allowances and money for the education of the child.

However, despite the child protection law in place, the fate of children like Noel and his half brother is yet to be known.

And, indeed, women like Falesi will continue to overwhelm child justice courts with the hope of finding the much desired maintenance for children whose daddies duck out of their responsibility.

Source: Malawi News Agency � MANA