Traveling on a public bus can be a source of inconvenience and entertainment. On board one often hears profane dialogues, daily bulletins on the latest sensational community business which did not make the news, and unpaid counseling sessions between drivers and passengers. While these may often be unavoidable annoyances to the person who is mentally saturated, it can also serve as a catalyst for something greater – introspection. Well, I had my weekly dose of introspection this week on a public bus. Two gentlemen, who were sitting behind me, were engaged in a conversation which sparked this article. One was complaining to the other about what he perceived to be irresponsible behaviour by his son’s mother. He alleged that she would often misuse his child support payments and later complain about insufficient funds. His companion, who also seemed irate on the matter, encouraged him to seek the advice of a legal representative. A woman, who was sitting next to them, joined the discourse only to support the claims that women often misuse child support funds. Are their claims justified? If so, why are women not being held legally responsible for the misuse of child support funds while men may be incarcerated for failure to adhere to such duties?
Over the years, the story lines have not changed. Man meets woman, they fall in love or lust, uncontrollable desires lead to unplanned pregnancy, love or lust depart from the union and they inevitably separate. Generally, the child is left with the woman and the man is expected to financially and emotionally support the child. Unfortunately, some men who soon become emotionally intoxicated again soon forget about their seed. The result – state involvement to force child support payments. On the opposite side of the coin, the newly single woman is now on a quest to market herself. She often changes her appearance and gets a wardrobe makeover all in an effort to attract a worthy suitor. Soon, tales of unpaid child support fees and misuse of these fees emerge.
Often, we are quick to listen and support the stories of the women while few of us take time to listen to the plight of the men who claim victimization. Their claims are many. Women are accused of using child support payments to finance their weekly makeover which includes the purchasing of products to enhance the length, colour and texture of their hair, the purchasing of cosmetics as well as the subtle updating of their wardrobes. Further, women who have children with several men are accused of using payments for one child to care for others and even their new partners. Some claim that all this is done while the child continues to languish in terrible conditions – often being away from school and lingering in the community in dirty clothes with naked feet. While these complaints often remain in the sphere of social injustice and local rumshops, we are left to ponder many points. Why punish one parent for the failure to meet certain obligations while allowing another to blatantly misuse the funds allotted for a specific use? Are we subtly promoting gender equality only in certain spheres of society? Are we unconsciously promoting the idea that a male ought to be held financially responsible for a female simply because he fathered her child?
I posed the question of accountability for child support funds to someone from the legal fraternity. His response: there is no legislation which indicates accountability on the part of the recipient. If so be the case, there is undoubtedly little gender equality before the law in St. Lucia and such legislative backwardness can only continue to be a catalyst for social upheaval. As societies evolve, laws must change to accommodate growing needs. When this happens, citizens feel that there is fairness before the law and there is little need to turn to vigilantism.
We cannot deny that many men are guilty of not assuming their roles as fathers nor can we deny that many women are guilty of manipulating the primitive law systems in our society. This is our reality. Our reality also dictates that fairness before the law is often dependent on our gender. How unfortunate!