Don’t be a question mark in your kids’ life

Don't be a question mark in your kids life

As part of an ongoing campaign to encourage greater male involvement in children’s lives, this Father’s Day the African Fathers Initiative is calling on fathers to commit to their children, and as a first step, ensure that their names appear on the birth certificate. The Africa Fatherhood Initiative is encouraging Dads, ‘Don’t be a question mark in your child’s life!”

How many children on the continent are without fathers in their lives? The answer is we simply do not know. A contributing factor to both low commitment and knowledge about fatherhood is the low numbers of fathers who register their names on their children’s birth certificates. 

This is particularly prevalent in developing countries where cultural and legal barriers often discourage or prevent fathers from assuming responsibility for their children. In such societies, motherhood is usually given more importance and recognition, leaving fathers feeling somewhat marginalized and with little incentive to participate in the upbringing of their children.

This lack of involvement can have serious consequences on a child’s growth and development, including emotional and behavioral problems, poor academic performance, and even increased likelihood of criminal behavior. It is therefore crucial to encourage fathers to take an active role in their children’s lives and to remove any barriers that prevent them from doing so.

This can be achieved through education, awareness campaigns, and legal reforms that promote equal parenting rights and responsibilities. Only by empowering fathers can we hope to create a more nurturing and supportive environment for children, both on the continent and around the world.

One simple step to start to raise the numbers committed fathers, and equip children with knowledge of their parentage, is to get dads to register their names on the birth certificates of their children!

Each year on 15 June, we celebrate Fathers Day, honouring our dads and letting them know how important they are in our lives. Yet for many African children, it will be a day that goes unnoticed, or worse, will be a reminder of an empty space in their lives.

Research conducted by the Human Research Council (HSRC) South Africa shows that a overwhelming 42% of South African children are growing up without a father in their lives. Linda Richter of the HSRC estimated in 2004 that only 20 per cent of fathers, who were not married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth, were in contact with their children by the time the children reached the age of 11.

Article 7 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which most African governments have signed, gives the child the right to be registered immediately after birth, to a name, to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

There is a need for rapid re-orientation of society, and children and family services, towards a stronger expectation of the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children – through caring, providing financially and supporting their children’s learning. This will benefit the child, the mother, the family, and the father.

Lindiwe Mokalake, a researcher at the University of Botswana, points out that not registering a child with the fathers’ name not only affects the child, but also the rights of the father.

“Currently, a dad’s name will only appear in the child’s birth certificate if he is married to the mother, otherwise if the mother is not married, she is not required to fill in that part – many don’t. However, this is in review, as some men complain that the Botswana Laws are not in favour of men’s rights concerning their children born out of wedlock. We are waiting for the new amendments, which we are hoping will require the father’s name at birth registration, whether the woman is married or not, as well as other forms of access to these children.”

Registering the birth details of the father along with the mother is an absolute must. It is the child’s right and it gives us a starting point for all other research and policy development. African governments need to develop a legal and cultural expectation, and support for, substantial involvement of all fathers with their children from the earliest stages and continuing through their lives. .

This would include taking steps to make it easier for fathers to participate in the care and education of their children and maintain their support for their children. For example, there is a need to tackle barriers in the workplace that discourage men to be involved with care giving. There is also a need to hold child and family services to a clearer and higher expectation of the father-child relationship, and to support these relationships more firmly and proactively from the very start.

The work of the African Fathers Initiative proceeds from an explicit commitment to gender equality. It does not challenge the importance of mothering or mothers’ rights to children, and it highlights the importance of working collectively for the interests of children.

Kudzai Makombe of UNIFEM Zimbabwe says, “Supporting fathers’ involvement in the care, education and financial support of their children is important for children and gender equality. The contribution of cash and sharing of care from both parents in low income families, and in the case of separation, is an important element in tackling child poverty.”

Makombe also points out hat emotional, along with financial support is vital. “It’s not just about the cash,” she says, “If the child loses contact with the father it also loses all the social capital and networks that the father has available to help the child develop. These will include paternal grandparents and other relatives, friends, workmates, social and education contacts. The value of these is inestimable.”

African Fathers contends that there here is no such thing as a fatherless child. Every child had a father or has a father somewhere, even if they do not live with their father or see their father very often. Many men can play the role of father to a child, including grandfathers, uncles, step-fathers, foster-fathers, older brothers, cousins, family friends, and men who have responsibility to care for children

Unfortunately, we truly are a generation of fathers known by our absence rather than our presence in our children’s lives. Poverty, migration, and social expectations of low involvement of men in caring roles – all these factors play a part but we’ve come to regard the unacceptable as the norm. It is time to deliver the fatherhood revolution! In the end, everyone gains.

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    Children without involved fathers, or a significant older male father figure, are at great risk of both perpetrating and becoming victims of violence - both as children and adults - and of becoming victims of substance abuse; teen pregnancy; poor academic achievement; mental health problems and delinquency.

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