The founder of local NPO Child Maintenance Difficulties in South Africa (CMDSA) has launched National Child Support Awareness week. Running from 4 to 10 December, the week will culminate in International Child Support Awareness Day on 10 December.
Felicity Guest tells Parent24 that child support is a national crisis. In South Africa over 52% of children grow up without financial support from both parents, and more women are unemployed than men. Additionally, fewer women hold senior positions, earning 27% less than men for performing the same function.
Women are not just earning less, but also perform the bulk of the unpaid labor of raising their children - often without assistance from the fathers.
The Maintenance Courts are ineffective in enforcing maintenance and complicit in the financial abuse of women and children, Guest says.
They are under resourced and staff are inadequately trained, leading to unacceptable delays in first appearances and arrears cases, with many of these cases going unresolved.
The experiences of most women are one of victimisation, which has a disastrous impact on the child as well as the mother’s financial, emotional and psychological well-being.
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The Maintenance Act and Court was established for the ordinary person to have access to justice, Guest explains, but this is not the current situation in the courts.
"Without legal representation it is a lucky draw what happens and when,"she says. "This has been the status quo for years and it is untenable for it to continue unabated."
The lack of financial support is pushing women and children further into poverty and is their biggest threat in accessing shelter, food, education and health security.
Society has normalised single mothers raising children on their own, without financial support from the fathers, she says. This narrative needs to be disrupted and changed to both parents being equally responsible.
Guest hopes that the Child Support National Awareness Week and International Day will bring much needed attention to this crisis.
CMDSA is the only local organization that focuses on raising awareness, empowering parents, lobbying government and advocating for change in the Maintenance Courts, she says.
The organisation is working to establish an international body to research and collect information on the impact of mothers not receiving child support, and then to advocate globally.
Financial abuse is at the core of Domestic Violence and it is the glue that binds the victim to the abuser even when their relationship has ended, Guest says, and unless we address this issue and disrupt the status quo, gender-based violence will not be significantly decreased.
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