Men fight back: new frontier for gender activism?

Men have always been criticized for lack of involvement in the support and upbringing of their children especially when born out of wedlock, thus leaving women to take full responsibility.  Consequently, most men were dragged before the courts and some locked behind bars for failure to pay maintenance of their children.

In recent years however men have increasingly taken centre stage in playing greater roles in children’s lives. This is especially highlighted by what could well turn out to be a landmark case where the father of a child born out of wedlock is challenging the adoption of his child without his consent. Based loosely on tradition and the notion that a child born to an unmarried woman ‘belongs’ to the woman, the practice in Botswana has been that such children are adopted by the men marrying their mother without the consultation let alone consent of the biological father.

The basis for the case is section 4 (2) (d) (i) of the Adoption Act  of the Children’s Act 2009 contravenes  section 3 of the Constitution of Botswana  in permitting  the adoption of children without the consent of the their biological fathers. According to Ndadi Law firm, which represents the father in question, the section violates his client’s right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment as espoused by Section 7 of the Constitution.
Furthermore, the law firm submitted that section 4 (2) (d) (i) runs contrary to the spirit of  Children’s Act, 2009  which seeks to ensure that both parents care for and are involved in all matters pertaining to the welfare and rights of their children irrespective of whether they are married to each other  or not.

Tebogo Mothusi,* who is fighting for custody of his three children is one example of this ‘fightback’.
As he narrates his life, it becomes evident that his life has been mainly characterized by tears, sadness, and sleepless nights of questions without answers, hardship and lack of a supportive family structure. “I raised them up by myself since the first one was a year old while there mother stayed in Gaborone due to work commitments.  I want to give them a better life because even when with their mother, they do not stay with her as she stays somewhere else with her new man. She has left them in the care of their grandmother who from time to time goes to the lands, leaving them in the care of other people.  I have tried on several occasions to get them back but their grandmother always tells me that  I have not  married  their mother ,but I can’t because it did not work between us; she has moved on and so have I,” he said.

According to him, he has always looked after his daughters aged 10 and 9 years respectively until the day when their mother asked that he brings them to Mahalapye during school holidays. “Their mother said she did not want anything to do with me so since that day it became difficult to take my children and every time I went to check on them they would cry when I left. According to them, their mother had told them that I had died,”he explained, adding that “All I want is to be given custody of my children; to take care of them in the best possible way that I can. I do not see any reason why I should not be allowed to stay with them because as things are, they are not given any proper care and are vulnerable especially that there is no adult supervision. I know how it feels like to grow up without a father’s love and support and I do not want my children to go through that bad experience. But again without the support of a family to help with advices and give me strength, it is quite difficult. ”

Even though Mothusi has managed to take his two daughters with the help of the Mahalapye District Commissioner, each time he drops them off at school, he fears that it may be the last time that he sees their smiling faces. “I hear the family is planning to come for them but I have told the school administration that no one should come and pick them without my consent.”
Mothusi’s case has won the support of Voice of Men Association, which is helping him to win in the custody battle. Its chairperson, Tshepo Kwapa stated that they want the court to grant him full custody. “Their mother  wants the new man to take responsibility which is wrong and unfair to both the children and their biological father. Our interest is to put the best interest of the children in the forefront in accordance with the Children’s Act, 2009,” he said, urging other men also seek help at their offices and other relevant authorities when faced with similar challenges.

He said the modern father just like a mother can take good care of the children even in the absence of the mother. “Nowadays things are easier; men use disposable nappies, formula milk and can cook hence there is basically nothing which should deprive them of taking care of the children. It is time that biological fathers are granted their rights as well,” he said.

Attorney Uyapo Ndadi, said the eagerness of fathers to get involved in the upbringing of their children was commendable. “This is a departure from the norm and it is encouraging. Biological fathers are asserting their rights and those rights should be respected,” he said, adding that he hopes that more fathers would come forward and seek help if they are denied their rights to their children.

Emang Basadi Director Idah Mokereitane also emphasized the importance of full participation of both parents; emotionally and financially. “Both parents have the right to access their children in order to give them love and support materially. By having contact with their parents, they get exposed to transferable skills usually learnt from mothers and fathers and the children grow up to be balanced minded individuals,” she explained.

According to Mokereitane, fathers of children born out of wedlock have always been denied access to their children. She said this was also aggravated by the Affiliation Proceedings Act as it is silent on the father’s right to access the child though he is expected to pay maintenance. The Act was enacted for unmarried women to obtain support from the father of her child. “The Act was based on the   customary law that says ngwana ke wa ga mmagwe hence leaving out the father because in most instances it is the mother who stays with the child,” she explained, saying the setup was an anomaly.

“Today men are doing a great job in raising children and they should be recognized for that. Some of them even take care of their children better than some mothers. But in the end the best interest of the child should be considered; the parent who is better resourced and can take care of the child should be granted custody and co-parenting arrangements be made so that all can  take responsibility.”