NOW bothered by court ruling
THE NATIONAL ORGANISATION OF WOMEN (NOW) says it is concerned about a recent court ruling relating to child maintenance matters.
On May 8, Acting High Court Judge Alrick Scott ruled that Andre Edwards had been wrongfully imprisoned by the Magistrates’ Court for 42 days for not paying child maintenance.
The father fell behind on his payments shortly after a maintenance order of $60 a week was made in April, 2013. In February this year, he was committed to prison for arrears of $5 610. His lawyer Lalu Hanuman filed a writ of habeas corpus and challenged the process by which the warrant to commit was issued.
Acting Justice Scott suggested that instead of automatic jailing, magistrates should examine whether the men were financially unable to pay or were just wilfully refusing to do so.
However, public relations officer of NOW, Marsha Hinds-Layne, said she was “very concerned” about the ruling on Edwards’ detainment. She added she found it to be “puzzling” and an interesting interpretation of the Child Maintenance Act.
“As far as I know, when a man is ordered to pay maintenance, the law does not stipulate that his employment or unemployment recuses him from his responsibility to his child.
“A child has to eat and in the same way that a mother cannot use unemployment to say that she is not going to feed her child, a father cannot use unemployment to say that he cannot feed his child. I cannot speak on the case specifics, but in general, if a father is unemployed, I would then want to see what mechanisms that father used to still in some way honour his commitment to his child. Did he apply to the Welfare Department?”
Hinds-Layne also questioned how a complete neglect of a parent’s duty could be tantamount to a wrongful imprisonment. She said parents were to ensure their children had access to education, food and support.
However, social activist and founder of Men Against Naughty Dead Beat Mums Barbados, Kammie Holder, said the issue of child maintenance was more than it appeared. He said women were denying fathers the right to see their children and going to the court to seek to do so.
“Maintenance of a child is a legal and moral obligation. Shouldn’t access to a parent be a right of the child also?
“Children must never be used as pawns or denied access to any parent once they are not prone to any dangers. How many men have given up on visitation in frustration?” he asked.
Holder added that mothers needed to sit down and meet with fathers and thoroughly speak about the issue before they go to court. He said these meetings could help both parties explain their circumstances and alleviate problems going forward. (SB)