I went to school with a boy who was the only son between his parents. He had four sisters, but I dare say that none of them was as affected as he was by the breakdown of his parents’ relationship.
Being the only son of both parents, he was caught in “war” that had nothing to do with him. As a result, he was one you could call a “problem child” in school. He was often violent and disrespectful to authority. The thought of holidays was dreadful for him because it meant that he had to be home in the eye of the storm created by his parents’ battle for his custody. The custody of the daughters was not an issue as three of them were legally adults, and the other, well, she probably just got forgotten as the ex-couple battled over their son.
Sometimes when relationships breakdown, the people that suffer the most are the children who did not have a say in the coupling that produced them, and do not have a say in the resulting circumstances of the breakdown of their parents’ relationship.
In child custody matters that go before the courts as part of a petition for dissolution of a marriage, the courts take several factors into account in determining who is granted primary custody of the child (ren) of the marriage. Paramount in the court’s consideration is the child’s welfare. Some of the factors that the court will consider to make a decision are as follows: the degree of familiarity of the child with each of the parents; the amount of affection by the child for each of the parents, and the affection of each parent to the child; the respective incomes of the parties; education of the child; and whether one of the parents now lives with a third party, either man or woman. In the case of children of tender ages, custody would normally be awarded to the mother of the child(ren) unless other considerations make it undesirable.
But not all cases get to the courts or even the welfare office. For the most part, when relationships breakdown and all communication and reasoning fail, one party has the upper hand and that party ends to use the children as a tool to make the other party suffer. Unfortunately, the parties who really suffer are the children. I have a friend whose elder brother was abducted by their father’s relations after their father passed away in the early 70s.
He was a little under 10 years old, but old enough to know what was going on. He was returned to his mother after a few months, but no one really knows how that experience affected him. Now at almost 50, he still suffers from a heightened sense of paranoia and is dependent on drugs. Can his state of being be attributed entirely to the abduction?
Who knows? What his family know is that the abduction had an effect on him; how much of an effect is anyone’s guess. The thing is that everybody’s psychological constitution is different. No two people come out of a traumatic experience in the same way. Some come out of it and are able to stand on their two feet again, for others, the experience marks the beginning of a downward spiral in their lives, they are never able to recover from it.
A friend’s mum once told me that my generation was too sensitive. That may be so, but if my son is any indication, then the generation after mine is even more sensitive and we must begin to do things differently.
A few months ago, Davido and the mother of his child made headlines when it was alleged that Davido was trying to take their child out of Nigeria without the consent of the mother, and had denied the mother access to her child for months. Such stories were rife when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, when men would abduct their children from their mothers in the name of giving them a good life or simply to punish the women. But the world is different now.
There are laws against that sort of behaviour. Nigeria is not a contracting state to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980), which aims “to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence, as well as to secure protection for rights of access”.
But, our Criminal Code under Chapter 32 on Offences relating to Marriage and Parental Rights and duties, section 371, makes it a felony offence, liable to 14 years’ imprisonment, for a person to forcibly or fraudulently take a child under the age of 12 years from their parent or guardian, or to harbour a child so taken. However, such persons have a defence if they claim a right to the possession of the child in good faith, or, in the case of unmarried couples, if they are the mother or father of the child.
There are times when it is not in the child’s best interest to have contact with one of the parents. In those cases, the party alleging so should go through the proper legal channels to be awarded sole custody of the child. Otherwise, parents, please leave your children out of your vendetta against each other when your relationships fail.