Just as the old journalism adage goes, when a dog bites a man it’s not news but when a man bites a dog it’s news. Something similar is true regarding single parentage.
It’s much more common for a father to abandon his children and life goes on as the single mother struggles to make ends meet and bring up her children in the best way possible but it’s quite rare for a mother to walk out on her children perhaps because as a Swahili saying goes: “Ajuae uchungu wa mwana ni mama/ It’s only a mother who knows the pain of child.”
THE AFRICAN SET UP
One out of every three (33%) children in America and nearly two-in-three (64%) African American children live in homes where the father is absent, according to a study in 2011.
In the African set up, single-motherhood remained socially acceptable only to widows and in some communities, wife inheritance was acceptable to fill that gap.
However, any woman who had to bear the responsibility of raising her children alone because of divorce or rather separation from the husband was often ostracized by the society at large and in some communities like the Luhya, following unresolved differences between a man and his wife, the woman would just be sent back to her parents’ home and she would not be allowed to take with her any child. Children were always considered to belong to their fathers.
MEN NEED TO ‘MAN UP’
Even though it is not in line with religious teaching regarding family, single-motherhood has become popular over the years thanks to a myriad of issues that have rocked the institution of family. These issues range from death, unresolved differences between spouses which lead to divorce, financial and emotional constraints and in most cases, just the mere act of irresponsibility by fathers who disown their parental roles.
The modern woman has been empowered with time and is more independent on her thinking, choices and decisions regarding her life, contrary to the past when a woman would solely rely on a man for her success.
As some physiologists and relationship gurus argue, the change of mindset in the modern woman has left most men at loss on how to handle the modern woman, mostly because men are still stuck in the old traditional expectations society placed on them.
THE CHILDREN ACT
All in all, regardless of the circumstances that might lead to the separation of two parents, it’s immoral for a man to carry on with his life oblivious of the fact that he sired a child somewhere and refuses to take up his parental role. Kenyan men have been notorious for this to the extent that legislators have been forced to come up with laws that compel men to offer financial support to their children.
PART III of The Children Act (Cap. 586, Laws of Kenya) maintains that among the parental responsibility which by law a parent bears over a child is, “maintenance of the child and provision of adequate diet, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education and guidance.” According to the ACT, the following people have responsibility to maintain a child:
1. Parents of a child who were married to each other at the time of a child’s birth;
2. Parents of a child who were not married to each other at the time of a child’s birth but have subsequently gotten married;
3. If the parents are not married but the father has acquired parental responsibility;
4. Joint custodians of a child;
5. Joint Guardians of a child.
The court may order a parent to provide for a child’s upkeep but will take into consideration the financial means of those involved.
EFFECTS OF ABSENTEE FATHERS
Experts believe that children who are brought up in the absence of a father figure are on average at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
As a popular saying goes, “Any man can father a child but it takes a real man to be a father.”
“SUCCESS HAS MANY FATHERS”
This Kenya Forum correspondent finds it quite ironic that some fathers remain absent and unknown in their kids’ lives but shamelessly resurface in the event that one of their offspring becomes successful in life.
A recent scenario that played out is that of the just crowned winner of the ninth edition of the popular reality show BIG BROTHER AFRICA, Dilish Mathews. Just a week after the 22 year old Namibian beauty emerged winner of $300,000 a Kenyan man of Borana origin, one Abdi Galgalo, emerged claiming he is the biological father. The question here was where was he for the past 22 years? Why now! Dilish had earlier expressed her desire to meet her biological dad.
Another case is that of the late Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru where two ‘fathers’ appeared following his demise. The two men claiming to have fathered Wanjiru were a 50 year old ex- Kenya Airforce soldier, Elijah Kipng’etich Chebon, and a Kiambaa farmer Peter Kimani who had even threatened to go to court to ensure that the athlete was buried at Kiambaa and not Nyahururu
“Success has a thousand fathers”, as they say but “defeat is an orphan”.