Children Are Hostages to the Their Parents’ SpiteWritten by Igor Shegavich
The Centres for Social Work should take into account the child’s right of opinion during a divorce proceedings, in the matters such as which parent he or she wants to live with and who they have established a stable emotional relation with, recommend from the National Coalition for Children’s Rights.
“My wife kidnapped my child right before my eyes! Instead of coming home with the baby, from the maternity ward, she went to her parents and immediately filed for a divorce. It’s not only that she wants to leave me without my child, but she also isn’t interested in the fact that she deprives the child of a father. Now, neither she brings him up, nor she gives the child to me. The child is growing up with the grandparents, but without a mother and father. “</span>
This is the story of a Skopje resident who, like thousands of other men, leads an institutional battle to be a father of his child “more than four days in a month”. Unlike them, thousands of others do not want to be parents to their children even for a day and forget that the child needs a father after the divorce.
“My heart is breaking whenever the children stand by the window and look at the parking lot to see their father’s car. They cry for an hour, waiting for their father to pick them up, but he’s nowhere to be found.
“In order to calm them down, I have to tell them stories of how he was busy so he won’t come. He left the children to me and he was gone. Then why did he get married? Has he thought about these children, has it occurred to him that they are asking for him”, says a 30-year-old woman from Skopje.
She, like other unsatisfied parents, thinks that the country needs new legal provisions which will take children into greater consideration, rather than parents.
According to the statistics, since 2000 until last year every tenth marriage in the country ended with a divorce. The average age of the divorced women is 24-years-old, and the largest per cent of men have divorced at the age of 27. After the termination of the marriage or cohabitation, the conflicts between the former spouses continue and the children are those who suffer the most.
The psychological consequences of such situations are more severe to children than parents are aware of, experts say.
“Right before the divorce, during or after the divorce proceedings, i.e. until the spouses establish a normal communication between them, they forget about the children. They forget that the children witness all conflict situations that occur, which are the reason for the divorce. The question how the children perceive it is rarely posed, even less the question how they feel at those moments. Such situation can cause a psychological state of guilt in the child. The children think that they did something wrong so that is why Mom and Dad are not together. They blame themselves, they retreat in themselves, they isolate and feel different from other children. Such behaviour is not normal, so the psychological development of the child regresses instead of progress”, says Biljana Koprova, specialist in medical psychology.
She argues that for a healthy psychological development a child needs both parents at all times.
“It is common in our environment, in case of a divorce of the spouses, the children to stay with their mother. However, regardless of the sex of the child, there will be a lack of identification with the other parent, i.e. the father. All psychological tests show the importance of both parents, whether the child is male or female”, says Koprova.
According to her, when there is a divorce, the institutions make rules for the parents, not the children, who always have the need to see their parent, whether it is the father or the mother. Regardless of the age, the children in that period are not spared from psychological stress, trauma or feeling abandoned.
“The children are emotionally, psychologically, economically and physically dependent on their parents, or rather in all aspects. The term divorce has no meaning for children. What matters to them is what they see, and that is that Mom and Dad are not together, that they do not love each other and the experience itself includes them as well. Because they perceive themselves in union with their parents, regardless of which parent they will be separated from, it is normal that further on in life they will feel more traumatised, because a part of them will be missing”, says Koprova.
VIOLATED CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
“The current legal provisions restrict the children’s rights by not enabling their fathers to spend more time with them”, say members of the civic association “Emotionally Healthy Childhood”.
“Everybody is concerned only about which of the parents sees their children, but no one is concerned whether the children see their parents. The goal of the association is to represent the children’s interests, their emotional needs, their wishes and rights. It is noticeable that when the Family Law was being drafted there was no representative who would defend the interests of children. We are in contact with the competent institutions and we have an intense collaboration with the Chamber of Psychologists which needs to form a professional opinion as to what is best for the children. This opinion will be used in the preparation of new legislation”, says Vlatko Popovski, president of the association.
He explains that except for men, there are also women members in the association who want the negligent fathers to pay more attention to their children and pay the alimony regularly.
It is the Family Law that strictly defines which parent will have the custody of the child or children; it is not done by patterns, say in the Inter-municipal Centre for Social Work in Skopje.
“Regardless whether the spouses have decided to divorce by mutual consent or on the grounds of appeal, the Court asks for an opinion from the Centre, as to which parent should have the custody. It is common a three month period to be given during which the spouses have time to find a way to reconcile and stay together, because that is the best for the children.
“Nevertheless, if the marriage ends in divorce, a team of psychologists, social workers, pedagogues and if necessary lawyers, after the examining the situation and after the talks with the parents and children, forms a decision about who will have the custody. Meanwhile, neither of the parents is favoured, both are equal, because each case is an independent one”, according to the Centre.
Still, the experts think that there is room to introduce improvements regarding the existing provisions in the Family Law. They emphasise that, for instance, in the neighbouring countries the Court comes to a decision and that must be respected, unlike here where the decisions regarding visits which are made by the centres, are constantly changed at the insistence and most often out of spite of one of the parents, to the detriment of the children.
Both the Ombudsman and the non-governmental organisations have noticed violation of children’s rights in terms of maintaining contact with the parent they do not live with
“The Centres for Social Work should take into account the child’s right of opinion as to which parent they want to live with, which parent they have established a stable emotional relationship with and this should be deemed just as important as the material and economic conditions of the parent.” This is the recommendation of the National Coalition for Children’s Rights, coordinated by the First Children’s Embassy in the World – Megjasi, which was published recently in the Alternative Report of the Non-Governmental Organizations to the State Reports about the Situation with the Rights of the Child in the Republic of Macedonia.
At the Ombudsman’s Office they say that the past few years the greatest number of the complaints regarding the children’s rights refer to children’s rights to maintain personal and direct contacts with the parent they do not live with.
“The most common problem is the failure to execute the decisions of the Centres for Social Work for making those contacts, and despite our interventions and the submitted information to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, there are still difficulties overcoming this situation.
“Due to the lack of efficient and practical mechanisms for enforcement of the decisions, often this right was denied by one of the parents, and the centres refrained from taking more stringent measures”, says Nevenka Krusharovska, Deputy Ombudsman.
At the Ombudsman’s Office they think that before coming to a decision regarding children and parents, centres rarely make inspection and monitor the performance of parental rights and responsibilities, due to which they make decisions which are difficult to implement in practice.
“In practice, often the child refuses to maintain contact with the parent they do not live with, so the centres, respecting the child’s statements, give up on the case and do not take other measures for exercising this right. However, the centres rarely look into why the child refuses to see the other parent, whether because of bad and unsuitable treatment of the parents towards the child or because of instructions and threats of the parent they live with. Therefore, the specialist teams in the centres should evaluate each statement of the child and by supervising the parental rights, to assess whether the child gave a certain statement due to abuse and pressure by one of the parents”, say officials from the Office.
Translation from Macedonian:Selmanoska Ajrina