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All for the children

Women who refuse to support their children could soon be asked to pay up.

That’s because Minister of Youth, Stephen Lashley announced today that amendments were coming to the Maintenance Act, giving men the power to claim for the upkeep of their children.

The minister, in commenting on Government’s recent introduction of the Child Maintenance Fund, which allows mothers whose child support payments have been delayed to claim assistance, added that there were other interventions that were also necessary to assist children.

“We recognise that there are still many more interventions to be implemented to further assist in the care and protection of our children; and let me assure you that my ministry and other stakeholders’ agencies are working assiduously to introduce other initiatives. One such initiative will be amending the Maintenance Act to ensure that fathers can apply for child maintenance at the magistrate’s court,” he said.

He was speaking at designation of former Magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris as the first UNICEF Champion of Children in the region, in a ceremony this evening at UN House.

Lashley acknowledged that female-headed households were prevalent in Barbados, where many children had mothers with “visiting male partners who may or may not be their biological fathers”.

When those unions came to an end, he said, sometimes it was necessary for the woman to seek maintenance for children coming out of those relationships.

“However, some of these families do not receive maintenance as some men refuse to make maintenance payments to the court. Having said that, I need to also acknowledge that many men are providing maintenance to their children and contribute to the household in several ways.

“What is worrying however is that I still hear the complaint that some men continue to be denied access to their children or that the mother does not provide maintenance for the child. Children in some instances are therefore prevented from forming relationships with their fathers. I wish to indicate that the office of the Attorney-General is at a very advanced stage in addressing these matters by effecting various amendments to the law,” he said.

Marshall-Harris, who said she had spent many years as presiding judicial officer of the Juvenile Court listening to some of the challenges children face, added that she was ready to serve these children and be their voice.

She added that she had been on the sidelines, advocating and cheering on the introduction of the Child Maintenance Fund, but told the minister there were a few areas that needed to be ironed out.

“If you are a sitting magistrate, you know oh so well the challenge of mothers who do not get any money for the support of their children. Many many years in arrears. So the point is, it is not about the mothers, it is not about the fathers, but the children are suffering and I know many a magistrate wanted, like myself to do something and this is giving us the opportunity to do something for those children.

“All I can beg is that we get the administration of it so streamlined through the courts so that it is another great advancement that Barbados has made for our children,” said Marshall-Harris. (LB)

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