Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela told delegates attending the "Joys of single parenthood" dialogue in Durban on Thursday that parental responsibilities need to be borne by both parents regardless of being custodial or non-custodial and irrespective of the nature of the relationship of the parents.
She said for most women, particularly poor women, single parenting was not a matter of choice, adding that the law was there to ensure that all living parents discharged their parental responsibilities and that when the system failed people, the her office was there to help
The Public Protector opined that while there was no greater joy than a birth of a child, parenting was a huge social, psychological and financial responsibility that needed to be borne by both parents, in the best interest of the child.
"Parents need to be aware that children are not accessories. Parental responsibility transcends providing financially support and includes being there for a child, physically, psychologically and socially. Parental neglect has a psychological impact on children, which might have negative long term effects," she said. Acknowledging that for accomplished women, single parenting is often a conscious choice, the Public Protector noted that diverse circumstances that lead to single parenting included failed relationships or marriages, divorce, widowhood, domestic violence and child abuse.
She further noted that in most failed relationships a mother becomes a custodial parent and the father tends to provide financially, taking a less cumbersome role in the upbringing of a child. She drew attention to the fact that men too may be single parents and that when they do, they face different challenges.
The Public Protector's address included observations on what she referred to as the Parental Alienation Syndrome, a phenomenon that involves strained relations between the children and one of the parents, usually the non-custodial parent.
She advised parents to put the best interest of the child first and not turn the children against the other parent as it was in the best interest of children to feel loved and accepted by both parents.
The Public Protector encouraged the use of mediation in divorce and post divorce therapy to normalise post divorce relations to facilitate healthy co-parenting. She went on to talk about legal aspects of single parenting and outlined how her office can help when the system fails the people.
She advised that her office can help if the complaint does not involve a decision of a judge or magistrate. She advised that her office already deal with service failure in areas such as domestic violence, maintenance, administration of estates and custody processes in the Office of the Family Advocate.
She added that there were different reason for single parenting which a key factor in determining the extent of the joys and perils of single. She said optimising joy for one's self and the children from single parenting provided a partial answer but did not recommend single parenting.
At the end of the Public Protector's address, participants raised questions and lodged complaints mostly relating to alleged service failure in the handling of maintenance, administration of intestate estates, domestic violence and social assistance grants.
Her Durban office, which joined her with an outreach clinic, registered the complaints. The grievances will be processed as early resolution matters. One of the complaints involved an allegation of fraud in the Master's office while another concerned identity theft and fraud in the child grant system.