The Children Act should not be a milk cow

Posted on East African Standard Here

Kennedy Buhere

Perhaps, the most radical thing that The Children Act 2001 ever did was to give full legal recognition to the rights of children born out of wedlock.

The Act removed the legal disabilities and discrimination that this category of Children suffered in respect to care and maintenance by their biological fathers.

Before then, fathers who had sired children out of wedlock had no legal responsibility whatsoever to take care of the needs of this child—leaving their care, maintenance and custody to their mothers.

Thanks to Children Act 2001, a child born out of wedlock is now—subject to the social and professional status of the father— as much entitled to adequate food, shelter,

clothing, medical care, education and guidance and other entitlements as his/her stepbrother/sister who happened to be born under the roof of a marriage.

The Directorate of Children’s Services, in conjunction with the courts, has made good the provisions of this Act, thereby providing a support to such children whose fathers fail to take care of the children.

Children’s courts have directed—in the face of outright neglect of fathers for their children’s care and maintenance— that fathers make periodic payments to pay for the education, medical and other needs of the child (ren).

Settling scores

This is as it should be. Justice, equity, and moral decency require that a father provide for the legitimate needs of his biological children, whether born within or outside wedlock—subject of course to his financial ability.

Press reports, however, indicate that some mothers are taking advantage of this law to settle scores with the men who sired their children.

They are demanding outrageous amounts of money for the care and maintenance of the Children—amounts well beyond the financial ability and even the pecuniary needs of the children they are fighting for.

Clearly, the Child is an excuse, a deflection, a pawn in a game of love gone sour.

A guiding principle in this kind of suits is that the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration in determination of matters involving children.

This provision protects the child from being used as fodder to fight dragons and windmills.

Conscientious children’s officers and magistrates have refused to be sucked into this emotional cauldron and ensured that the interests of Children are upheld without them being used as pawns to settle private vendetta.

Apart from the material and physical needs of the child like adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical and education, the child needs guidance.

This is crucial to a child’s personality development and eventual identity as an adult. This process depends as much on the influence of the father as of the mother. Any

relief that deepens the antagonism between father and mother of the child, estranged though they might be, is not good for the long-term interests of the child.

If forced to provide outrageous amounts to the child, the father develops an antipathy for the child. The. The Child needs him for moral and ethical guidance and emotional support throughout his/her development.

This is denied when mother turns into a shylock and wants to exact her pound of flesh from the father.

All told, however, men shouldn’t punish the children they have sired—whether within or outside wedlock—just because they don’t like the mothers of the children.

They should extend the same filial love and responsibility to the children as the one they give to their other children.

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