Updated: Jan 7
On the radio I once heard a story that has been with me ever since. A narrative of a 20-year-old lady who is incarcerated in one of Malawi’s female prisons. She was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of murdering her newborn. The mother had just given birth, but the man responsible for the pregnancy refused to accept responsibility for the child. She committed a heinous crime that can never be justified. However, it made me wonder about the absent father. What happened to him ? did he just carry on with his life as if nothing happened?
I know some people who were raised by single mothers, not out of choice but because their fathers refused to accept responsibility for them. Given the country’s high rate of absent fathers, you would think Malawi is a breeding environment for bad fathers. In our society, males get to choose whether or not they want to be active in their children’s lives. No one holds them accountable or condemns them in the same way they would if a woman were to choose to walk away from her children’s lives. When such men leave, they face no consequences and go about their lives as if they did not abandon an entire human being.
In an ideal world, the bad fathers would experience the same reaction, indignation and disgust as women who abandon babies in the toilet or on the streets. Have you seen the fury that women who abandon their newborns in toilets, dumpsters or anyplace else face? When they are discovered, they are promptly detained and handled as if they are the worst criminals on the planet. I understand how our society hides behind the concept that women are the primary and natural care takers of their children; yet, even if this is true, how can they offer care if they do not receive the financial or physical assistance they require from the other parent?
Of course, there a few of dormant laws to blame, such as, the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act. The Malawi Law Commission drafted the Child (Care, Protection and Justice) Bill in 2006 with UNICEF assistance, because Malawi did not have comprehensive legislation on child justice at the time. The Act was later passed in 2010 with high hopes of addressing some of the wrong doings committed on innocent children. However, most single mothers and fathers who abandon their children are uninformed that this law exists let alone that it can assist helpless mothers who have nowhere else to turn to.
How can this behavior be stopped? In the most fundamental sense, women must be aware of the legislation regarding child support. People should be informed of the consequences if they choose to abandon their children. They must understand that abandoning innocent children has its own set of consequences. Both parties must acknowledge that the purpose of this law is to serve the interests of the children and has nothing to do with the parents' interests.