The percentage of children living with a single parent, mostly under the care of the mother is on the increase.
Social entrepreneurs have narrowed on the social and moral issues surrounding single parenthood or ‘fatherless children.’ Religiously, that is seen as evil with most societies frowning upon children born out of wedlock. In Rwanda, they could inherit anything.
It seems traditional societies had more respect for marriage than the children. Fatherless children are here with us, but what are the economic costs of fatherless children?
What can we do about it? Or should we accept that it is an inevitable outcome of modernism, advancement?
Some have extreme views suggesting that children from single parents are often outliers. Some suggest they are more likely to win beauty contests because the mother had choices of who to father the child, in terms of height, complexion and so on.
Married couples have no such choices. Other observers suggest boldly, that such children are likely to be outliers on doing bad things, so that if they get involved in crime, they can be vicious, particularly if male.
“Why care about men who never cared about me?”, so the argument goes. These extreme views are subject for further research.
Social views apart, is it fair to subject kids to a single parent when biologically speaking it took two to bring forth the kid? Why should one disappear as soon as the kid is born or conceived? Is that heroism or cowardice?
Why have we made single parenthood appear as normal? Yet, despite their obsession with models and equations economists have accepted that the family is the most economical and efficient means of bringing up children.
The family unit ensures there are economies of scale with resources shared from housing to transport to food. Most people will accept that the marginal cost of having an extra person in the house (husband or wife) is low.
The economic advantage goes beyond lower costs, the family units brings in security, and a feel good effect that make its members more confident, and more focused.
Parents and kids have a ‘purpose “to pursue in life, children have examples to follow (not always good). Some could argue that families feel good effect and confidence create demands in the economy for goods and services, and by extension create jobs.
If the family is such a critical unit, why have we been unfair to our economy by making single parent hood normal? Many will argue that we cannot legislate love and make marriage compulsory; it is a matter of the heart.
But we could set up economic incentives that favour marriages and penalise single parenthood. Should we not do all we can to ensure children who involuntarily come to this world are given the best economic and social environment to grow up reach their potential and finally make their contribution in making this small planet a better home?
In developed countries reforms in the socio-legal system have tried to tame the emotions and passions that go with begetting babies. Men pay child support if they impregnate a woman, some say to ensure they pay for any “fun”.
In the US failure to pay for child support is a Federal offence, perhaps an indication of how seriously the Government takes the issue.
The State of Mississippi recently had an ingenious way of dealing with child support defaulters; they put up their photos and details on bill boards along the highways!
Men in Rwanda and Africa as a whole have always fought against child support or affiliation. It is the time we revisited this issue, we cannot afford to deny the next generation the beauty and the comfort of the family or semi-family unit in the name of selfishness.
Another approach which would be highly controversial in Rwanda is alimony, where a man is charged with the responsibility of maintaining his former wife’s economic status if they divorce.
What of a marriage tax rebate? That is long overdue. The family unit is the foundation of a strong and prosperous nation.
If we do not protect and promote it, we shall all pay the price in form of dysfunctional society, where we spend more time worrying than enjoying life.