Now the happiest man alive, local enviromentalist Geoffrey Khwarae became an activist for men’s rights when High Court judge Oagile Dingake ordered this week that an adoption of his 13 year-old daughter without his consent be rescinded.
He had been fighting to adopt his child for four years and his heart’s desire was only granted on Tuesday when Dingake ordered that Section 4 (2) (d) (i) is unconstitutional to the extent that it does not require the consent of the father in the adoption of the child born out of wedlock in all cases. Ask former High Court judge Dr. Unity Dow and she will tell you that Batswana were not ready for this ruling. First, she says members of the public should be educated on this new development so that they do not jump to conclusions.
According to Dr. Dow, regardless of the state of the mother and the father’s past or current relationship, the child’s best interest should be the focus. Traditionally, when the girl’s family would go to the boy’s to tell them about her pregnancy, he would be asked if he had intentions of marrying her and saying no would automatically disqualify him from having a say in the decisions relating to the child. Again, child maintenance was different from today as a compromising family would allow the man to pay four cows or so at once to have access to the child. Subsistence farming was also the order of the day. Dr. Dow sees Dingake’s judgment as a step further to the old and modern child maintenance practices.
“On top of having the obligations to take care of the child, you are also entitled to having rights over the child,” she says. She interprets the ruling as straight-forward, explaining that it does not only limit to marriage. Whilst acknowledging that the first parent is the mother, Dr. Dow informs that during the adoption consent process, several people ranging from grandparents (if the child was raised by them), adoptive family members and social workers are thoroughly consulted before the courts' decision. The new move does not necessarily mean the father will stop the adoption as several factors come into play. For example, the state of the adoptive family, language spoken there and place. Children above the age of nine are also interviewed on where they would want to be. We don’t want the child to be miserable and any decision taken should be at their best interest,” she says.
Kgosi Daniel Kelosiwang from Kanye says what matters is the negotiations between stakeholders involved. He reveals that tradition required a man to pay for tshenyo (damage) and bogadi if he wanted access to the child whose mother he did not marry. This allowed him to go and see the child at the mother’s place and to actually, take care of him. His observation is that it is hard to come across a girl who does not have a child before marriage these days, stating that it brings about problems when the mother starts a new relationship or gets married. In a case where the father would have denied impregnating the girl during the initial family meetings, only to resurface later and say he wants to be part of the child, Kgosi Kelosiwang says the man who wants to marry the ex-girlfriend is given the child as his own.
Where disagreements prevail beyond elders, the child would be given to the mother’s father (child’s maternal grandfather) from where both the mother and father would be expected to visit and support the child. He says it still happens in the BaNgwaketse culture. “The child stays using his grandfather’s surname,” he says. Pastor Stephen Bell of Berean Baptist church says biblically, if a girl and a boy had sexual intercourse, and whether she gets pregnant or not, the man is expected to pay bride-price and marry her and never in a lifetime, divorce her.
“The problem in Botswana is that it’s perfectly okay until the girl gets pregnant. People sleep together before marriage and only start complaining when the girl falls pregnant, but that’s a wrong foundation. Fornication is a sin,” he says, citing Exodus 22:16 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to support his view. Pastor Bell challenges people to refrain from sex before marriage, explaining that sin compounds things.