Women suffer due to the intentional non-payment of maintenance

Extracts from a speech delivered by DA Women’s Network (DAWN) Eastern Cape chairperson, Nomvano Zibonda, MPL, during a virtual panel discussion on Women’s Day.

Women’s Day celebrates the strength and resilience of women and their contribution to society and the country. It provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the generations of women whose struggles laid the foundations for the progress made in empowering women and achieving gender equality.

DAWN EC is using this Day to highlight one of the many issues that women in our country are still struggling with, child maintenance.

Chapter 2 of the Constitution, section 28(1) provides that “every child has a right to be protected from neglect” section 28(2) of the Children’s Act further states that “the best interest of the child are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”

The Constitution establishes a society based on democratic values and fundamental human rights. It seeks to improve the quality of life for all and to free the potential of each person, and each child has rights as set out in section 28 of the Constitution, and the state must respect, protect and promote those rights.

The 2019 General Household Survey found that one in five children (19.8%) in South Africa do not live with either of their biological parents. Close to a third (33.8%) of children lived with both parents, and 43.1% lived with their mothers, meaning 57% living without their fathers, while 11.7% were orphaned, losing one or more parents. In most cases the primary caregiver, often a woman, battles to provide the basic needs of the child and is faced with child maintenance difficulties.

The harsh reality is that many children do not receive the adequate support they need to be able to grow into a healthy adult that can live their life to the fullest.

The family is important because is it the most basic social unit in society, and when it is functional, it becomes the primary source of emotional, economic, social and cognitive support for both children and adults.

Withholding child maintenance is a form of domestic abuse that continues after the end of a relationship: it is financial abuse, but unlike other types of abuse, it is tolerated by society.

Therefore ideally, it is crucial that both parents, where possible, be in the child’s life, and this does not simply mean financially but emotionally as well. How I wish, Democrats, that we could also have a law that forces parents to love their children.

Democrats, as I stand here today, I have experienced first-hand what it is like to be neglected by your parent. I remember as a young girl who lived with her unemployed mother, going to those containers (amaphone-phone) to try and get hold of my father, often to ask for money for food. Those pleas often fell on deaf ears.

I do not wish that experience on any child. In fact, it is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about this issue.

Most recently, I had to go to the King William’s Town magistrate to file for maintenance for my child. I was let down several times by the inefficiency of our courts several times.

Every time I went there, I met women frustrated by the system up to a point they wanted to let go and suffer in silence.

Democrats, withholding child maintenance is a form of domestic abuse that continues after the end of a relationship: it is financial abuse, but unlike other types of abuse, it is tolerated by society.

Refusing to help to support a child is a way of compelling the parent with care to put all of their assets into a joint responsibility – ensuring that they remain at a disadvantage financially.

This disadvantage continues far into the future and may never be compensated for.

The rights enshrined in the Constitution also includes the primary caregiver’s right to dignity, respect and equality and they should enjoy these without prejudice of the burden of being subjected to further difficulties due to government failures to implement policies and laws.

Such examples are, inter alia, postponement of cases, unnecessary delays in serving summons, shortage of staff to handle such matters, and government departments who fail to pay over garnishees to the department of justice. During the lockdown, hundreds of caregivers could not get their money from the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, some for over six months.

I think we can all agree that the time for silence and complacency is long gone. It belongs to another Era. OUR era is an era of letting loose of the chains that have long been used to tie women down by our patriarchal society for decades. As women of this era, we are choosing to fight. We have made a decision to stand up and CHALLENGE our society, fight for our space to exist equally.

DAWN has been fighting and highlighting the issue of child maintenance for a while now, last year in my capacity as a member of the Eastern Cape Legislature, I moved a motion that:

  1. That the Department of Social Development and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services collaborate to ensure that parents do not default on child support.
  2. That the provincial government continues to intensify the efforts to ensure that child maintenance is prioritized as non-payment would be to the detriment of the most vulnerable children within the province and the country as a whole.

My DAWN predecessors also fought to highlight the issues on child maintenance when they led the ‘PAY YOUR PAPGELD’ campaign. We will not let go of this fight until it is won.

This time around, we want to empower women so that they are able to take advantage of the available resources and legislation to challenge this financial abuse.

Women, you have two choices before you, to keep quiet and suffer in silence or stand up and challenge your Goliath. I plead with you, CHOOSE TO CHALLENGE.

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