Segolame Tsheko could not save her romantic affair with her baby- father. After many fights they decided to stop working on their relationship which was not working anyway. They however decided that they were not going to drag their 18 months old son, now four through an ugly break up. They just removed the romantic and sexual aspects of their relationship but remained respectful to each other and focused on shared parenting. The result was a shift in what they were fighting for. Instead of fighting for the romantic relationship to continue they put their son’s needs first by not upending his life. On weekends, the ex-boyfriend would come over to pick up his son and spend quality time with him.
Segolame and his baby-father may be a perfect poster couple for the “coÔÇôparenting” movement that is sweeping the world, they are however only a blip on Botswana’s co-parenting radar. The term “co-parenting” was coined to describe a parenting relationship in which the two parents of a child are not romantically involved, but still assume joint responsibility for the upbringing of their child. Occasionally, social scientists also use the term to describe any two people who are jointly raising a child, regardless of whether or not they are both biological parents or have ever been romantically linked (i.e. a single mom raising a child with the help of her own mother). But more often than not, co-parenting occurs following a separation, divorce, or break up of a romantic partnership in which children are involved.
Most Batswana couples however find parenting very difficult after parting. Breaking up is never pleasant, but it is a lot more painful and complicated if children are involved. Hundreds of children spend their childhoods caught up in the crossfire of parental warfare, condemned to become the battlefield on which their parents perpetuate the conflicts that drove them apart in the first place. Mercy Leutlwetse, a single mother of a three year old daughter has had to chase her absentee baby-daddy for child maintenance support. “Ever since my daughter was born, now three years old, her father has only seen her twice. He has never paid a thebe towards her maintenance support, he never calls or visits. A year after we broke up, I met a man who treats my daughter as his own. He has since asked for my hand in marriage.”
However, there was a slight problem. The law required Mercy to alert her baby-father of her planned marriage so that they could agree on the future of their child. Her ex-boyfriend however objected and the dispute escalated to a case hearing with the social workers. Fortunately the social workers decided against him.
Mercy would be a poster girl for the state of parenting after parting in Botswana where social workers and magistrates are viewed as default options for parents having to deal with the fallout of a break up especially child maintenance support. Single mothers huddled together on court benches with children strapped to their backs have become a regular feature of Botswana’s magistrates courts every month end.
The Children’s Act of 2009, section 29, sub-section 1 stipulates that “separated, non living together and or divorced parents should all follow the co-parenting agreement Act in taking care of their children. “
Gaborone City Council Social Welfare Officer, Pretty Ntsosa told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that “this is a trouble-free procedure which we as social workers urge separated parents to undertake. An agreement between two parents should be made so as to positively benefit the child’s life,” adding that the best interest of the child should be paramount.
This however is easier said than done even in cases where the baby-fathers have moved on but are still willing to share in raising their children. Oftentimes the baby father and his child would be caught in the rivalry between the stereotypical bitter ex-girlfriend and wicked step mother. Father and child are caught in the fight for territory: for the ex-girlfriend the territory is her children while for the step-mother the territory is her man.
Ntsosa explained that “a very sensitive factor which parents, especially in our country are unaware of is medical procedures. In case of child surgery, there should be a set agreement on which parent signs the medical surgery documents,” adding that, in case of one parent’s death assessment should also be made to decide on who will be left responsible for the child, the other parent or a suitable guardian
Section 8, sub section 1 lists that, if the child is 10years and above, they have the right to opine who they want to stay with.