The government needs to urgently study and find effective ways of encouraging fathers to be responsible for their children, as well as, effective mechanisms to improve the enforcement of maintenance orders, writes our correspondent.
Many divorced women, face an uphill battle in getting maintenance for their children not only because errant fathers refuse to cooperate but also because enforcement over maintenance orders from the court is not effective. The government’s recent announcement that loans would be provided to Muslim women undergoing a divorce but not being paid maintenance (‘Alimony Aid’, The Star, 12 January 2010), though well intended, raises a number of concerns.
The proposal suggested does not in any way address the core issue of non payment of maintenance by irresponsible fathers. There seems to be no attempt to promote the concept of shared responsibility in having and bringing up children. It should never be that parental responsibility stops just because the marital relationship has irretrievably broken down. The proposal does not seek to make errant fathers more accountable to their families.
The proposal also does not seek to improve the enforcement of a court order for non-payment of child maintenance. Currently, via civil court proceedings, enforcing a court order for non-payment of child maintenance is a lengthy, tedious and cumbersome process. Apart from the time and effort involved in filing civil court proceedings, there is the issue of cost including lawyers’ fees, court filing and related fees plus the deposit to be paid for the sustenance of the husband/ex-husband should he be imprisoned defaulting in the payment of maintenance arrears. The prison deposit can be claimed back by adding it on to the maintenance arrears. A man may pay the arrears to avoid the jail sentence or to be released from jail but once outside, if he chooses to stop further payments, the whole process will have to be initiated once again to enforce further payments.
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The proposal suggests that a loan is to be given on a monthly basis for up to six months. Who is the guarantor for this loan and what happens after six months? Is the woman to repay the loan if the errant husband/ex-husband is not traceable or found to be unable to pay maintenance for whatever reason? Furthermore, the mechanics of administering such loans in a just and efficient manner needs to be worked out together with a systematic monitoring of the allocation of these loans. It is unclear exactly who will do this and how this will be done.
The issue of non-payment of maintenance affects both Muslim and non-Muslim women. The government must be fair and extend its efforts towards helping non-Muslim women facing these problems as well.
The government needs to urgently study and find effective ways of encouraging fathers to be responsible for their children, as well as, effective mechanisms to improve the enforcement of maintenance orders. Surely it must be possible to find and emulate positive examples from around the world? The proposed loan is not the solution.