The rising number of “hit-and-run fathers” is leaving more women with the burden of single-handedly raising children. The children are affected by lack of paternal care in their formative years and transition to adulthood.
Men are either abandoning their families or neglecting children they have sired with women outside marriages.
A research by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicated that 22.2 per cent of children countrywide are living with their mothers only, as more men run away from their responsibilities.
According to the survey, most such fathers are alive but give their off-spring a wide berth.
Even where fathers participate in raising their children, mostly they are only providing financially.
But there are also cases of women running away with their children from abusive marriages or irresponsible men.
This has led to a rise in street children, when such mothers are unable to bear the burden of providing for the children and offering adequate parental care.
And some well-off women prefer to have “get-children-only” affairs with men, with the intention of remaining “independent” from spousal responsibility.
This combination of circumstances and choices has to some extent led to the rise of children maturing without life and social skills that ought to be imparted by fathers.
Rev Vincent Mulwa of the Christ Pilgrims Restoration Centre blamed the trend on the church’s failure to condemn women choosing to get children out of the we lock and opting to remain single.
He says this, coupled with the upholding of monogamy, has denied many children the privilege of having father figures in their lives.
“The problem we have is when the church accepted single mothers — that is when we got into a pit. Somehow, on seeing she is getting the freedom to have a child outside wedlock, a girl will craft a way of getting herself pregnant with somebody. The man may not be serious about it, but the girl will get herself pregnant. Some even say they only want to get a child and not get married because they want to remain free,” Rev Mulwa said.
Several factors have put men off providing for their children. The main causes are the rising cost of living, lack of mentorship and “outrageous” expectations on men.
Dr Kennedy Ongaro, the dean at Daystar University’s school of human and social sciences, says men are evading responsibilities due to heavy financial burdens caused by social demands.
Ongaro says a father is supposed to be a male figure to his children and must bring up his children so they can uphold the community’s culture and values.
“A father is a symbol so far as cultural practices are concerned. He must bring the children up, shelter and protect them to the level where once they grow up, they must be the people who will take up the same responsibilities,” Ongaro said.
“You can’t take up responsibilities that you have not been introduced to. What is most disheartening in the community today is lack of that particular commitment to children from their parents, especially men who should instil values.”
Ongaro said changes in the society set some demands that are fast becoming unachievable for men.
He says for instance, two to three decades ago, parents took children to local schools, which had a normal fee that every parent could afford.
But that is no longer the case today, as many parents want to take their children to “good” schools that perform well.
Such schools charge exorbitant levies, and are, therefore, very expensive to many parents and because of that, many parents, particularly men, are stressed because they cannot carry that burden and most resort to drinking.
“Sometimes we are messing ourselves up. Every person wants to take their children to high-profile schools. Every parent should know that a school is a school, and you need to connect with your children. You can go an extra mile and provide some kind of extra coaching to your children; they could become whatever you want them to become,” Ongaro says.
The cultural values and practices, where a father sits down with his children, mentors and encourages them on how they should live — are no more. More children growing up without fathers, with no one to look up to, and learn from.
When the children are not mentored and have no values, then frustrations set in in their lives.
The frustrations sometimes lead to suicides, truancy, depression and heavy drinking.
Ongaro says nurturing begins from the time a man’s wife is taking up the pregnancy.
Bringing up a child is a lifelong process. A father does not impact his children’s lives in a day. Fathers ought to be there for their children all the time.
“Therefore, because they are not there for their children, when that gap exists, it brings disobedience. They disobey not only from the family members but also members of the community, causing what we call physical pain," Ongaro said.
“This is in the sense that the children and youths feel rejected because they don’t have a father, don’t have somebody they can talk to, somebody who can listen to them on issues of disappointment. When you are hurt, you need somebody who can encourage and nurture you, but the parents are not there."
Ongaro says fathers have a greater role in influencing their children. Children persevere, move on, grow up, soldier on, because they have somebody to influence and support them. The fathers should also be role models to their children.
"A father is a symbol of authority, and therefore, his children have to listen to him — that we don’t drink, don’t come home late because father doesn’t,” Ongaro said.
"Fathers have not been able to become role models because they feel ashamed that they can’t be a good role model if they do not have strong financial support or income, which many parents don’t have today. They have been deprived because of the educational system in Kenya, which is exorbitant, unlike the schools we went to.”
Mulwa says when women choose to get and raise children by themselves, whether because of being influenced by the “independents’ club”, they deny their children a treasure that only comes to the children through the fathers.
He says Christianity should become flexible and allow able and responsible men to marry more women to ensure no children grow up without masculinity that is held by fathers.
The cleric says women should be taught that the responsibility of providing for children is not a men-only affair, and that raising a child is beyond provision.
WHY MEN FLEE
Many men are not available. They have gone into drinking because of frustrations, Ongaro says.
“They don’t want to go home because hard questions are asked: Where is this, where is that?
“Fathers feel they should not be available to answer or lack answers to such questions. Even if they go home, they go at 2am, when their kids are asleep, and others wake up at 5am, when their kids are asleep, and disappear. So they are absentee fathers in many ways, and especially where they need to give adequate advice.
Ongaro says things started going south when complaints about the girl child started.
The empowerment ought to have been focused on both men and women, to ensure women are empowered to meet the educational costs of their children, he says. That way, when fathers become drunkards, the mothers can run the show in the education of their children.
“When a family disintegrates, people are not going to say that family of so and so has disintegrated. The name that is mentioned is the name of the man, the father,” Ongaro says.
“It is our duty and responsibility to ensure that the educational system in each and every society in a family set-up, it is the responsibility of the father and the mother to take care of those kids.
“The rain started beating us when people started saying, ‘Ukitaka school fees, enda baba yako akupe [If you want school fees, go get it from your father]’. When the mothers are not in employment, the children suffer. They can’t go to school, have a better life or have a role model. Women can be positively influenced to become role models, but since that never happened and the father, who has been working, has become a drunkard and can’t take up responsibilities, the children suffer.”