It is an obvious point but I mention it here because the marital status of the parents often effects the way children are brought up, and whilst some adults enjoy the freedom to cohabit, children born out of these relationships have frequently found themselves trapped in emotional trauma and uncomfortable physical conditions.
The older generation maintained strict and what most of us consider archaic rules to regulate social behavior, but over the years our communities have laid to rest the rigid cultural rules to embrace more liberal and carefree social patterns whose consequences quite often leave ugly footprints on life’s pathways.
My point is illustrated in the case I wish to present to you this week.
Moshe brought his matter before the customary court to expose the pain and trauma that Seelo (the mother of their children) had subjected him to, and to seek clarification on custody matters concerning their two sons.
Moshe and Seelo were unmarried parents of two boys aged 10 and 12 years.
Seelo had asked the father to look after the boys for four years while she pursued her academic interests abroad.
Moshe kept the children in his care for six months before he decided to take them to the village where his mother lived.
Moshe’s mother, like most grannies was just too exited to show off Moshe’s kids and help him raise them regardless of the obvious limitations in her village.
Seelo went to study but keep in touch with the children and send them clothes from abroad.
Seelo returned home four years later to announce that she had married while she was abroad and had come home briefly to close the Botswana chapter of her life and relocate to be with her husband abroad.
It was her wish to take her children with her so that they could enjoy the warmth of their mother’s love and the benefits of being brought up in a first world country.
She had further indicated that her husband was eager to adopt the boys in order to make it easy to comply with logistics concerning immigration.
Although Moshe was not disturbed by Seelo’s marriage as he too was engaged to marry in the not too distant future, he was angry that she should be so unfair and ungrateful as to want to take the children from his mother who had worked hard to look after then when she was away.
For a moment they were almost at each other’s throat over the issue until I called them to order. Seelo then requested to ask Moshe some questions.
Seelo: How often did you visit the village to see the children?
Moshe: Why should I visit children when the mother who raised me is there for them?
Seelo: You are so hurt that I want to relieve your aging mother of the children. Why?
Moshe: I hate your ingratitude over what my mother has done for you.
Seelo: Don’t you appreciate that our growing kids need one of us to be there for them?
Moshe: Not necessarily, many children are in the care of grandmas.
Seelo agreed that she was caught up in a situation where the father of her children was the only person who could assist her to study, and although their relationship had subsequently ended, they had a working agreement concerning their children.
She had thought Moshe would keep the children with him in town where there was a better learning environment, but unknown to her the father had moved the children to the village to live with his frail and elderly mother who could not assist them with school work.
This had resulted in the children’s performance sadly dropping.
She confirmed her desire to take the children when she relocated and that her husband would adopt them if Moshe had no objection. To this Moshe angrily interrupted and said “ O raya jang tota, ke eng lesa ye go itirela bana ba lona’? (What do you mean, why don’t you have your own children?) Seelo who had displayed patience with Moshe’s anger softly said, “Let us not fight over children.”
I suggested that Moshe and Seelo seek professional advice and guidance from the Social Welfare Officers, although Moshe raised a bitter objection stating that the children had already shown their preference to be with their mother.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE ?
Points to consider
- Moshe had failed to be with the children in town and had instead chosen to recycle his mother’s energy at a cost to his children’s performance at school.
- Moshe does not seem to appreciate that the children need to be with their parents and that a visit once in a while is inadequate.
- Moshe’s ego is bruised by the fact that Seelo wants her husband to adopt the children. He considers it an insult.
- Seelo is clear that she had temporarily surrendered her guardianship in order to achieve her academic project.
- Although Moshe objects, Seelo downplays the consequences of taking their children abroad.
The professional guidance of the Social Welfare officer could not be avoided and two weeks later the report stated clearly that the children desperately needed to be with their mother to catch up with the lost four years when their mother was studying. Seelo got her children and although Moshe begrudgingly allowed their mum to move with them, he vowed never to allow anyone to adopt his kids.
While we really wish to strike gender balance in the eyes of the law, there is growing evidence that the challenges and demands of fatherhood have been reduced to financial support and an occasional visit and not much emotional bonding.
I would hate to attribute this to culture because the older generation mentored their offspring both emotionally and socially.
For the parents who worked outside their homes, they relied on uncles to be there for their children.
While the convention on the rights of children makes generous provisions towards them, the social choices made by parents may make it difficult to access the rights entrenched in the convention. I have made a sad observation through Customary Court work that in some cases even married daddies do not seem to appreciate that fatherhood is a 24/7 calling financially, emotionally and spiritually.