This is good news, deadbeat fathers should have no place to hide in Rwanda. I wish this policy is also introduced here in Uganda. My deadbeat baby daddy will find this news in his inbox. Let me copy my baby daddy. Oh, our Kenyan deadbeat men should get worried, we are dealing with regional integration here! These were some of the reactions on social media about a story published by this paper recently in which government threatened to crack a whip on absentee fathers.
In the story, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) warned that it will hold accountable men who fail to support children and young women they impregnate, especially teenagers.The intervention by the government followed reports that over 17,000 girls aged between 16 and 19 years had unwanted pregnancies in 2016 and the responsible men had disappeared in thin air.
According to the Ministry, the move is aimed at responding to cases where men impregnate teenagers and fail to support them before and after giving birth.
Government plans to undertake investigations to establish men responsible for the pregnancies among young girls and compel them to support them and the babies.
While announcing this proposal, Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) minister Esperance Nyirasafari said:
“A man who impregnates a young girl must be held accountable and if need be use some of his property to support the new born child. We have to launch an operation in conjunction with police and prosecution to pursue those men,” she said.
According to the ministry, the assessment will be carried out across the country by asking each impregnated girl to reveal the man responsible before scientific tests are carried out to prove paternity.
But how practical is this proposal?
While many people received the news with optimism, some were skeptical , arguing that implementation would not be easy.
But for Aflodis Kagaba, the executive director of Health Development Initiative, the move will not only solve the issue of absentee fathers, but will also reduce cases of irresponsible child bearing.
Kagaba argues that the policy has worked in so many countries and believes it can do the same here.
“As someone who deals with young teenage mothers, it could be a very practical solution to the rampant cases,” he said.
His view was echoed by Emmanuel Karegyesa a pastor at Eglise Anglican Remera. The pastor and father of two believes that the proposal can be easily implemented with the help of family relations personnel at the sector level across the country.
He advises that although this is a good gesture, it should not be left to the government alone. He argues that even in the most difficult situations where both parents are unable to take care of the child, the next of kin, society and church should be able to step in and help the child.
Raising a child should be a collective responsibility of a community.
“The world today is full of self-centered people. I strongly think is it the role of the family, every church and every leader to develop a culture of taking care of their own. It may be difficult, but we can’t live like we don’t see the harm it causes to the child, the family and society in general because the child belongs to the society. It’s practically hard but it is worth every effort. It may require collaboration of different stakeholders,” he says.
Marcel Sibomana a child activist in Kigali also argues that child neglect is a form of child abuse and may have lifelong consequences on the development of a child.
“At times it is so surprising that most fathers who don’t take care of their children are actually not poor fathers. It’s usually just a misunderstanding between the parents of the child,” he says.
However, Shamsi Kazimbaya, a gender activist argues that although the government proposal is a good initiative, it is not enough to completely solve the problem.
She argues that the initiative only looks at compelling absentee fathers to support the kids and their mothers financially yet a father’s involvement in the child’s life should go beyond that. A father-child relationship at all stages of a child’s development has profound and wide-ranging impact on the child that lasts a lifetime.
“It is very important to conduct the assessment in a more practical way to inform the interventions. Otherwise I am not quite sure those girls will reveal the men knowing all challenges related to culture, poverty, family relationships,” she says.
According to her, more efforts are needed to promote men’s involvement through sensitisation and this requires dealing with social norms, and power dynamics between men and women, among others.
Jackline Iribagiza, a counselor based in Kigali also believes that the policy may help reduce cases of absentee parents although preventive measures would be a more practical solution.
“Compelling fathers that abandon their children to provide support may be a solution to the helpless teenage mothers, but then educating these young fathers on the importance of being responsible would be more helpful in avoiding such cases in the first place,” she says.
Like Karegyesa, she believes that it is the collective role of society to train these fathers to be responsible before the government can intervene as this will in the long run solve the issue of street children.
Kagaba also argues that some fathers live with children under the same roof, but still relate to them like absentee fathers.
“The government should also look into such scenarios because cases of absentee fathers come in many forms,” he says.
Magnitude of the problem
While explaining the extent of the problem, Nyirasafari said that when young girls are impregnated, they often drop out of school and their children are often malnourished due to poor feeding and could end up as street children.
With the many cases of absentee fathers, Iribagiza believes that there are many factors that lead to this problem and some of them are due to circumstances beyond the capacity of the fathers who abandon children. The bigger problem to her is related to poor parenting, which breeds irresponsible adults in future.
“Some men have been raised to think that mothers are entirely responsible for the upbringing and wellbeing of the child. The mother carries the heaviest burden of the child upbringing. Some fathers are not poor but are reluctant to help their children because they feel it is not their responsibility. That is why educating them is vital,” she says.
Karegyesa on the other hand believes that the causes are many and may range from economic aspects, social upbringing, and family conflicts.
Many male adults are raised in a way that doesn’t expose them to values that would make them good fathers. Many have grown up in dysfunctional families coupled with poverty. This pushes them away from being responsible parents.
YOUR VOICE: What are some of the circumstances that lead to absentee fatherhood?
Derrick Rukundo, entrepreneur
Lack of maturity. Some fathers even at an advanced age lack maturity to know that their children need financial and moral support from them. This however can be blamed on their upbringing as some could have been raised by single parents. In the end, it becomes a generational problem.
Ruth Kaziga, housewife
Working away from home in search for a better income also sometimes leads to the problem of absentee parents. Unfortunately, when a parent is not present to determine the child’s needs, it is very difficult to fully support them.
Morine Twahiirwa, IT specialist
I think that the biggest cause is poverty. If parents were financially stable, I don’t see why they would not take care of their children. The families of the absentee parents should however step in to provide for the child, for the sake of the wellbeing of the child.
Davis Mugabo, social worker
Child bearing can cause tension between the parents, especially when they are not both ready. Much as mothers have a natural ability to raise their children, fathers on the other hand may lose interest in case conflicts ensue in the family.