In this weeks column Ma Mosojane responds to a reader’s question
“I am young man of 30 years old. I have a baby girl of 22 months. I started staying with her when she was 2 months and hired a maid to look after her when I’m at work. Things started to change when my relationship with my ex girlfriend began to deteriorate. My ex’s family took my baby away from me, demanding damages of P7000.00, which I paid to them earlier this year. They then gave me back the baby to stay with as usual. Recently my ex girlfriend took the baby away in my absence.
I reported the matter to the police and all concerned parents. Last month-end I bought food and toiletry for the baby, who is at the grandmother’s house but she (the grandmother) refused to accept the groceries and toiletry. I went to the police to request that I make a statement of confirmation that I had been turned away with food for the baby. The grandmother still refused to take the food in the presence of the police, saying I was not welcome at her place.
Now am not allowed to see my own daughter anymore. I cannot take care of her completely. I asked for help from social workers but my ex girlfriend is not cooperative; she’s no longer taking the social workers’ calls. This issue is torturing me and sometimes I feel the best solution is to get rid of my ex and her mom…but on the other hand I feel pity for my lovely daughter. I really love her very much and losing her is a big blow to me. What should I do? I really need help.”
You will recall that in most of my articles in “Traditional wisdom” I have always drawn a parallel between the rigid rules concerning family/reproductive health and liberal social patterns of modern day Botswana.
The older generation knew that raising a child required commitment to uphold the principles that would safeguard the interests of the child.
The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child simply grants all children rights that are expressed by the 42 articles. The provisions of these articles can only be achieved if parents are mature, stable and appreciate what it takes to uphold all the articles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Sadly ‘Frustrated Dad’ is one of the thousands of unmarried fathers out there who desperately needs to be given an opportunity to be good examples in a society where women are generally abandoned to struggle as single parents.
The family of the woman charged P7 000 damages not to sell the child but just to exploit the existing traditional practice. It is not clear under what circumstances they allowed the father to keep the baby for sometime. The statistics in customary courts have shown that most unwed mothers use the child to call the shots.
This frustrated father has a good case because of the following:-
a) He has a bond with the baby and has shown responsibility from the word go
b) He has paid damages
c) He yearns for an opportunity to raise the child
It seems that the only route the frustrated dad should go is to request the social worker to assess the case and apply for visitation rights through the courts, but the chances of success in the customary courts is almost nil.
Regrettably our society does not have specialized courts to deal specifically with these issues and to draw the attention of the parties involved to the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A summary of rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child that might be applicable to this case
Article 3 (Best interests of the child): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and law makers.
Article 5 (Parental guidance): Governments should respect the rights and responsibilities of families to direct and guide their children so that, as they grow, they learn to use their rights properly. Helping children to understand their rights does not mean pushing them to make choices with consequences that they are too young to handle. Article 5 encourages parents to deal with rights issues “in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child”. The Convention does not take responsibility for children away from their parents and give more authority to governments. It does place on governments the responsibility to protect and assist families in fulfilling their essential role as nurturers of children.
Article 9 (Separation from parents): Children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it is bad for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child.
Article 18 (Parental responsibilities; state assistance): Both parents share responsibility for bringing up their children, and should always consider what is best for each child. Governments must respect the responsibility of parents for providing appropriate guidance to their children – the Convention does not take responsibility for children away from their parents and give more authority to governments. It places a responsibility on governments to provide support services to parents, especially if both parents work outside the home.