Dealing with the deadbeats

2014-08-18 00:00

‘Ultimately, it is about parents taking responsibility for their children, ensuring they ‘have a fighting chance to contribute to the country’s future.’

DEADBEAT. According to my ageing copy of The Macmillan Dictionary of Contemporary Phrase and Fable, the term refers to a useless or idle person, a sponger or parasite.

In the late nineties, it reveals, the term “deadbeat dads” was widely used for the growing phenomenon of young men who impregnate their girlfriends and then took no responsibility for either mother or child. The term resurfaced earlier this month with the release of draft credit regulations for public comment that would provide for the impairment of the credit records of child maintenance dodgers, which would stop them (deadbeat dads and moms) from buying cars or houses until they paid up.

Those parents who turn to the maintenance courts for relief from an unwilling former spouse may have sighed with relief, but there is still a long way to go before changes are made to the Maintenance Act, and the blacklisting of maintenance dodgers will only work if the Justice Department provides their details to the Credit Bureaux.

So let’s see if the bureaucrats get their ducks in a row, but while that happens let’s take a few steps back and look at the social problems at play here.

It is estimated that close to half of the children in South Africa are raised by single parents.

Now factor in a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report released last week that stated over one third of South Africa’s population is expected to be under the age of 18 in 2015.

Unicef’s “Generation 2030 Africa” report reveals that by next year, out of South Africa’s projected 53 million population, 18 million of those would be under the age of 18.

So we are looking at close to nine million children raised by a single parent.

With more South Africans sliding out of the middle-class income category and families with both parents working struggling to live, the issue of maintenance becomes even more crucial.

For parents of small children, the cost of education takes up a sizeable chunk of their budget.

And inflationary factors mean these and other costs, including groceries and clothes, are increasing constantly.

A parent who struggles to live will in all likelihood not be thinking long-term, and with no education or university saving’s plan in place, the children face an uphill battle to beat the cycle of poverty.

When they make the jump to university, it is likely they will rely on a student or personal loan taken out by their single parent.

There are two types of deadbeat parents (fathers are in the majority here); those who don’t pay any maintenance and those who have not changed their monthly contribution in years.

Callers to a Durban radio show last week were unanimous in their support for tightening the screws on maintenance dodgers, but highlighted the complexities involved in each individual divorce or separation case.

One caller spoke about the invisible role his girlfriend’s ex-husband played in the life of their two-year-old child.

The father had flatly refused to pay maintenance, negating his personal and legally parental responsibilities while content to have someone else foot the bill.

Another caller bemoaned the fact that his ex-wife refused to get a job and relied on his monthly maintenance cheque to pay the rent while he was scrambling to survive.

A third caller said that while she appreciates the monthly maintenance cheques, the father of her children has not increased these contributions in three years.

In the end, it is a matter of responsibility and the fact that the ties that bind parents to their children are not severed when a marriage breaks down.

Hopefully, once implemented, the guidelines will force deadbeats — moms and dads — to realise parental responsibility is not only about making babies.

It is also about ensuring their children grow up in an environment that allows them to contribute to the country.

They are the future and they deserve a fighting chance.

• Kuben Chetty is a deputy editor of The Witness.

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