The Herald (Harare)

18 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Maintaining a Child Both Parents' Responsibility

opinion

Of late there has been an increase in child maintenance cases that have gone through the Civil Courts. The influx of such cases could be a result of increased access to information on how to claim it or the increase in divorce cases.

Although no definite cause can be pinned to this increase, it is clear that people have tried to use the maintenance as cases to score points against each other using the child as the trump card.

Unfortunately that does not augur well with efforts to improve the welfare of children by Government and non-governmental organisations.

It is critical that a solution be found that helps to ensure that the maintenance law does not become a monster that will affect the child but ensure that the best type of care is given to children born out of wedlock or whose parents have gone through separation.

Thus it is critical that gender activists ensure that people understand that the child maintenance law is not meant to sustain a luxurious welfare of the applicant but to help your children get the best type of life in the given circumstances.

It should be made clear that maintaining one's children is a responsibility of both parties and hence is not meant to solely punish men.

In most cases, it is the mother who is left with the custody of the child while the father walks out of the home leaving the woman bound to claim the child maintenance.

Once people know the importance of maintaining their children, it will take away from the courts the burden to adjudicate on what beneficiaries can get.

It has been known that parties to a maintenance application have sometimes resorted to dirty tactics such as falsifying payslips to mislead courts on their actual income to evade paying enough for child maintenance.

In some cases, men have gone on to mislead courts as to whether they are employed or not or persuading the applicants to withdraw application on the promises of renewing the love relationship.

This is all meant to run away from the obligation to take care of the child.

Cases of men offering to pay US$1 or US$10 a month for the upkeep of the children; offering to pay nothing or an out of court settlement are an indicator of lack of education on the importance of maintenance.

Outrageous claims meant to settle scores with the other part have also taken centre stage.

In extreme cases, women have gone to claim maintenance fees from two men claiming parentage of the child from both and this should be discouraged as it abuses the essence of the law.

Why in the first place should one have a child out of wedlock and then refuse to take care of it?

The essence of being a parent is being able to take care of your children and provide them with the best type of care.

That is why in some other countries children are taken away from irresponsible parents.

The public needs to understand that it is a natural expectation that children must be looked after by their natural parents or guardians.

This means parents' responsibilities to feed, clothe, educate, provide shelter and medical care for their children remains subsisting even in cases of divorces.

This being the case, parents, particularly men, should not feel burden to take care of their offspring.

Proper education accompanied by stiffer penalties for defaulters can ensure that cases of one of the parents neglecting or refusing to take up this responsibility are minimised.

Cases of neglect have left one of the parents and sometimes relatives, with the burden of shouldering the duties of the irresponsible parent and ensuring the child gets the better life.

Gender analysts say the overriding principle in Maintenance Law is that one is mandated to provide for the upkeep of their children according to his means.

The Civil Court cannot order a parent to pay as maintenance, a sum which exceeds his earnings and that the applicant's claims are within the respondent's means.

The applicant also needs to show the court that the respondent is the parent to the child and has neglected or refused to carry out his duties as a parent.

Once people understand their obligation to their children it will help minimise defaulting in payment of maintenance fees.

The men or women will be aware that defaulting means children may go to bed on empty stomachs or denial of income that stands between them and poverty.

According to Bhekinkosi Moyo is a researcher with Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre it should be borne in mind that maintenance is more than money - it is also about mindsets and attitudes.

She adds that many defaulters do so because of differences with their ex-partners.

Some default because they have been socialised in a patriarchal society and believe that defaulting is a way of proving their masculinity - showing that as men they are in control.

It is tragic that the interests of the parents have been put before those of children.

Women who should also bear it in mind that money they get as child maintenance should be used for the upkeep of the children.

This will promote among men the culture of providing for their children, as they are sure that their offspring are benefiting.

There are cases in which men appealed for termination of payment maintenance fees after discovering that the money is not being used to support their children.

Such misdemeanor destroys the will to maintaining children.

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