It has been my duty as a court president to find a ‘happy medium’ between the two

Freedom could be described as a double-edged sword or a loaded gun in the hands of a mad man.

On one edge there is liberty and the other responsibility -both are extremely sharp and the weapon is not suited to cowardly, casual or treacherous hands.

It is evident that our society has shifted from archaic, strict and oppressive family rules of child rearing to a more liberal and ‘laid back’ attitude.

Both have their challenges and it has been my duty as a court president to find a‘happy medium’ between the two.

At times I have needed the Wisdom of Solomon to solve the problem, as this weeks story from the customary court will show.

TheTshipi and the Tau families found themselves at their wits end when their teenage children had a child together at the age of 17.

When they were struggling with the shock and embarrassment of how to deal with this, the baby arrived and the Tau family forced their daughter to go and dump the child with his dad.

Especially since his family were rich.

Naturally the responsibility for looking after the infant would lie with the Tshipi family –in particular the young father’s mother who had to take on the roles of grandmother and surrogate mother.

The Tshpi family took over the duty of nursing their son’s baby – a responsibility they undertook from the first month of the child’s life.

Then, almost two years down the line at a time when they had bonded with the toddler, the mother of the baby appeared out of nowhere to come and claim the child.

In addition to this ‘bombshell’ they received a summons from the customary court for “tshenyo” (damages).

And if that was not enough, Mr Tau called to tell the Tshipi family that he had consulted his lawyer, who advised that his daughter was not just “damaged” but she had been defiled, and there was a possibility of a criminal charge to be laid against their teenage son.

It was against this background that Mr Tshipiapproached the customary court in an attempt to reconcile the two families over this very complicated and sensitive issue.

When the families met, the toddler was brought to the customary court and cried bitterly, as if sensing the hostility between the set of ‘grown ups.’

I was reminded of the Biblical story of the Judgment of Solomon and the issue of cutting the baby in half as I considered the facts of the case.

I prayed that I would be blessed with the wisdom of King Solomon of Israel when it came to making my decision.

Points to consider

• Both Peo Tau and Thebe Tshipi were juveniles at the time of the birth of their daughter.

• Peo’s family had initially agreed with Thebe’s family that the issue of defilement should be pushed into oblivion because “bathobakebana” – these are just children.

• It would appear Peo pressurized her parents into claiming her baby (at the age of 20 months) and there is an element of opportunism in this sinceit does not take into account the emotional and financial cost the father’s family have invested.

• The Tshipifamily have fallen in love and bonded with the baby.

The have said that should the Tau family insist on damages they will in turn present a bill for all the costs of raising the baby, including damaged emotions.

They have even threatened to push the matter to court.

In the midst of the tug of war for the toddler Peocame up with the surprising suggestion that a DNA test should be done to determine the paternity of the child.

Only then would she consider letting go or sharing her baby with Thebe.

The parties agreed to this proposal and weeks later they returned to the kgotla for the final leg of the reconciliation process.

It came as a surprise to all, except I assume for the smiling child’s mother, when lo and behold the result of the DNA test showed that Thebe was excluded as the father of the little girl.

The smirk on Peo’s face was only matched by the Tshipi family’s collective look of astonishment.

After what seemed like an eternity, the open mouthed amazement turned to a stream of bitter resentment as the family gave vent to expressions of shock, anger and frustration.

It was not an unfamiliar scene.

I have dealt with many parents at various stages of life that have been forced into becoming grandparents – often at a very painful cost.

The parents of the boy are most often short changed since they usually have no choice when a baby gets dumped with them.

Then when the rules of the game are changed and the mother wants the child back, they have another unequal struggle to retain custody.

This case study is one of the many challenges that are emerging at the cross roads of cultures and there are no easy solutions available.

Teenage parenthood exposes many gaps in our society and one may only speculate to what extent lack of parenting skills, the impact of television, excessive freedom and other ‘double-edged swords’ are to blame.

One thing for sure – there is a problem.

Much as we look forward to achieving a “caring nation by 2016” there is evidence that there is a spirit of “me first” which drives decisions in modern day society.

Peo did not seem to show any remorse when the DNA test excluded Thebe as the father, and the fact that Thebe’s family raised her baby for almost two years did not seem to matter at all.

The least the Tshipifamily could do was to offer a healing balm in the form of an apology, but it was evidently not in their minds.

Had Thebe’s family reported the dumping of the baby with them, the story would have been different.

Now the families had to come to their own set of comprises to ensure a fair deal for all.

They could either take their bitterness to court, or resolve their differences between them and decide what was in the best interests of the child.

The matter of finding the ‘missing’ father, who could claim parenthood through the DNA test, was never discussed.

Whichever way the issue was resolved,one thing was sure, the baby could not be split in half.

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