“As long as I live he will never see my child ever again”
The comment came as it often did from the old man who was an ever present at the kgotla.
Each day he would bring his little wooden stool and sit quietly to listen to every matter – not just for the sake of it, but he believed that his mature wisdom could give much needed guidance.
He was what many might call a ‘busy body,’ but I found myself looking forward to his regular visits.
His observation about the youth is one I am inclined to agree with, and whilst this week’s story does not necessarily prove his point – it is worthy of debate.
Paulo related a long-winded story that boiled down to the belief that life had short-changedhim.
The main point to Paulo’s compliant was that the mother of his daughter was denying him access to the child even though the magistrate had ordered him to pay maintenance.Hisstrongly felt attitude was that he must be allowed to see what he was paying for.
On the surface it seemed like a valid argument but when one dug deeper it was apparent that there was more to the story than met the eye.
He was quiet cagey about the profile of the mother and the circumstances surrounding the child, but was smart enough to manipulate his emotions to force outa tear to demonstrate his apparent hurt.
Naturally an urgent meeting was convened for Paulo and Laya (the girl’s mother) to be assisted in this emerging pattern of a bitter tug of war over the child.
I was surprised when Paulo, who was in his forties, appeared with a young girl barely out of her teens and introduced her as the mother of his child.
Laya looked physically frail in sharp contrast to the robust and assertivePaulo, and there was obvious anger in the sharp glances she kept on giving the man who had brought her to the kgotla.
Laya barked out the words “gaakitla a bona ngwanake” –meaning:‘He will never see my child,’ even before the discussions began.
Paulo was visibly shaky in the presence of the young mother, giving only a brief account of his complaint that ended with him muttering his repeated claim:
“The magistrate said I must have access to our child.”
It was at this point that the real story behind the events emerged as Layarelated the facts of the issue and the shocking truth was revealed.
She was in fact Paulo’s stepdaughter.
As the sordid details came tumbling out exposing the abuse she had endured since the age of 12, I could feel the nausea rising in my stomach.
THE NAKED TRUTH
To avoid overloadingLaya’saccount with undue emotion – I present the details here only as a series of facts.
• Laya alleged that she was only a toddler when Paulo married her mother
• Although Laya was never officially adopted, the only person she ever called “papa” was Paulo.
• Laya alleged that from grade 7 when she was aged about 12, Paulo had repeatedly forced her to sleep with him and threatened to kill her if she dared tell anyone.
She fell pregnant at the age of 18.
• Her mother had just divorced Paulo because of his actions andLaya now lived with her andthe two-year-old child her stepfather had fathered.
• Laya was still battling to reconcile all these issues that were compounded by the fact that Paulo did not give financial support until reported, and even then only occasionally.
• Laya related most of her story with her emotions more or less in check, only resorting to the relief of tears when she revealed that Paulo had asked her to abort the child in order to cover his shame.
As Laya opened the can of worms concerning their relationship Paulo looked out through the window as if the shameful details did not concern him.
His only response was: “I am here only to talk about access to the child.”
Although natural justice dictates that fathers must enjoy the right to bond,nurture and love their children – the father’s actions were far from natural.
The right for a child to know the father does not accommodate the emotions of an abused child.
Laya feels that the only weapon she has at her disposal is to deny Paulo the opportunity to gain from an abusive relationship that has left her permanently wounded – this despite the fact that throughout the discussion Laya called Paulo ‘papa.’
As I sifted through the arguments it was apparent that Laya’s mum, who was subsequently called to the kgotla,is tormented by guilt that she failed to protect her child.
Her only excuse was that the family was dependent on her husband financially.
Without him they would have had nowhere to live and nothing to eat.
At the time my main concern was how to assist Layaovercome the emotional trauma, anger, psychological damage and break in education that has been caused by her ‘papa’s’ actions.
The social welfare officer had to come to assist in striking a balance in the matter.
Paulo seemed determined to pursue his demand that Laya be forced to allow him custody regardless of the background.
He seemed oblivious to the implications of his actions and the real possibility that he might end up facing a charge of defilement.
As I write these words I can reveal that Laya’s circumstances are still a major concern to me.
She has expressed the desire to return to school and resume her disrupted education.
I am in the process of raisingfunds to help her realize her ambition.
I admit that I am left with more questions than answers.
What does society have in place to rehabilitate people like Paulo, to heal Laya and her child, to assist Laya and her mum to move on after the divorce?
I am reminded of the words of my octogenarian friend,who accused the modern generation of lack of wisdom and authenticity, and wonder what can be done to prevent the disaster he predicted.
Laya has indeed ‘reaped a whirlwind.’ My concern is to help her from being blown away in its wake.
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