Dead beat dads have no place to hide after landmark ruling
It is a gloomy day for irresponsible fathers, popularly known as “dead beat dads”.
But it is a great day for children born outside marriage and abandoned by their fathers.
On Thursday, a judge cleared the way for mothers to name every child’s father in birth certificates even without the consent of the men responsible.
Now, following Thursday’s landmark ruling by Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi, all birth records will have a mandatory inclusion of the father’s name even if the children are born out of wedlock.
Declaring Section 12 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act unconstitutional, Lady Justice Ngugi said that every child has a right to have the name of his or her father on the birth certificate. It does not matter if the father consents to have that name included in the document.
The Attorney-General had defended the law by telling the court that it was aimed at protecting men from “unscrupulous women”. However, the judge said the law needs to be changed to protect the rights of every child regardless of the marital status of their parents.
“Other sections of the law provide equality to children,” she said. Every child is entitled to a name. Even though we live in patriarchal society, it is proper to keep birth records and avoid justifying the limit of discrimination in a child’s life.”
Judge Ngugi pointed out that the case was aimed at ending stigma as well as discrimination against children, especially those born out of wedlock. She said the burden of such children has for a long time been placed on women.
“Every child has a right to have its father’s name entered into its birth records. Therefore, children (born) out of wedlock (should) be at liberty to have names of fathers in the certificates,” she ruled and ordered the Registrar of Births and Deaths to ensure that the entry of names is done in the next 45 days.
She also directed that the law be changed to conform with others that relate to children.
The verdict was as a result of case filed by a single mother in 2014, challenging the Births and Deaths Registration Act.
The woman said that the law prohibited a mother from including the biological father’s name in a birth certificate without the man’s consent.
The woman through her lawyer, Mr John Chigiti, sued the AG and the Registrar of Births and Deaths, in the case in which the Law Society of Kenya appeared as a friend of the court.
Consequently, the judgment delivered yesterday means that “dead beat fathers” — those who dodge their parental responsibilities — will no longer have an excuse to run away from child maintenance.
And rich men who enter into casual relations and prey on women confident that the law allows them to hide children born in those secret relations are now out of luck.
And good fathers who have been unfairly prevented from claiming their children now have a lifeline.
According to Mr Chigiti, men who have been denied the chance to take up fatherly responsibilities to any of their children have now been given a window of opportunity to use the court’s decision to make women include their names in their children’s birth certificates.
“Women have had to go through the process of filing upkeep cases, seeking paternity tests, but now the kind of cases to be brought to court will be a registrar has refused to include the father’s name,” the lawyer said.
He explained that fathers need not to be looked for in future when the responsibility of taking care of a child becomes heavy. The courts’ decision also implies that a father automatically gains entry into a child’s life at birth and the child attains an identity once and for all.
According to him, this shields all children from discrimination mostly propagated in schools.
Some schools deny admission to the children of single parents.
“Endless questions to children born out of wedlock concerning their parents’ marital status have been brought to an end because this has always caused them to lose self-confidence,” Mr Chigiti said. “A child has a right and if its identity is incomplete it generally suffers as it grows without dignity.”
In essence, he said, the verdict calls for sexual responsibility.
“It is not a mere reprieve to women alone, it is expected that the number of upkeep cases will reduce and morality will be upheld in the larger society,” Mr Chigiti said.
He also said that inherited diseases — which may be traced from the father — can now be detected since missing dads have been brought closer to their children.