When men abandon their families
By Patience Lunda
Family is the foundation of society and the bond between a husband and wife is its cornerstone. Sadly however, some men choose to abandon their families, leaving behind shattered lives and broken hearts. While some leave due to financial difficulties or job loss, others walk away from their responsibilities without any explanation.
Brenda Moyo, a mother of seven children with various forms of disabilities, was left to fend for herself and the children after her husband abandoned them in 2022.
Moyo narrates that she has been relying on well-wishers to provide her with food and shelter since her husband left.
Four of her children do not go to school due to a lack of school fees and transportation, since they require special attention due to their disabilities.
“We got married in 2002 and he had the tendency of leaving temporarily and then returning, until I decided to follow him here to town, but he left again and now he is nowhere to be seen. I am meeting a lot of challenges in raising the children,” lamented Moyo.
She and her children are currently being kept at a house which is still under construction.
The house lacks proper security as it has no doors and windows, but it is her home now and she fears that once construction is completed, her family will have nowhere to go.
Ireen Mphande, a 27-year-old mother of three, is encountering comparable difficulties to those of Moyo.
Mphande’s husband left her for another woman and eventually migrated to Tanzania. He has since not done anything to support their three children.
Mphande currently lives with her step mother who sells bananas and she and her children are currently surviving on this too.
“He doesn’t even call to check on the children and before he left he used to beat me up to the point that the police intervened, but I have been trying to get hold of him to at least help the children because I am struggling to take care of them,” she said.
Mphande and Moyo are just examples of women who have been abandoned by their husbands and continue to face challenges due to this malpractice.
Unlike divorce, which typically involves negotiations and court proceedings to divide assets and determine child custody and support, abandonment can leave the abandoned spouse and children in a vulnerable and challenging situation.
NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGOGCN) chairperson, Barbara Banda says there is a need to strengthen laws that can make people accountable to the care of their families.
Banda has called upon community leaders to strengthen by-laws so that even men who are not employed are held accountable to the care of their children.
“We know that the system is very porous because if the men are not working, it becomes hard for them to pay child support which is why community leaders need to strengthen by-laws so that those that aren’t working should still be held accountable,” she said.
She then cautioned women to avoid giving birth to many children for ‘the sake of their marriages’ as the greater burden lies upon them in ensuring that the children have a good upbringing.
On his part, Centre for Youth and Children’s Affairs (Ceyca) Executive Director, Desmond Mhango condemned the behaviour of men abandoning their families, saying the decision of bearing children is made by two adults.
Mhango said the constitution of Malawi also indicates that children are supposed to be taken care of by both parents, and called upon abandoned children to report such cases to relevant authorities.
“Growth of children in all aspects requires parents as they are responsible for provision of everything that is needed for them to grow well, and hearing stories that some men are abandoning their families is really bad and should not be condoned,” Mhango said.
Earlier, Traditional Authority Jalavikuba of Mzimba District said he will ensure that bylaws are punitive enough to deter parents from absconding from their duties.
According to the Constitution of Malawi, all children are entitled to reasonable maintenance from their parents—whether such parents are married, unmarried or divorced—and from their guardians and. In addition, all children, particularly orphans, children with disabilities and other children in situations of disadvantage, shall be entitled to live in safety and security and, where appropriate, to state assistance.
According to Malawi Police Service National Public Relations Officer, Peter Kalaya, many cases of abandonment involve men and they are mostly reported by women.
Kalaya added that they trace the whereabouts of the men that have deserted and through their Victim Support Unit (VSU), they try to discuss the issue and map the way forward.
If the case can’t be handled at VSU level, Kalaya said it is referred to the courts.
“We first hear what both sides have to say about the matter before we intervene and if we can handle it we offer counselling but if it’s bigger we refer it to the courts but most times it’s women that present these cases,” he said.
Chandulo Kayira, a psychotherapist said both parents have diverse responsibilities and the failure to execute them has a psychological bearing in a child’s life.
Kayira said for instance, culturally, there are some issues that are supposed to be handled by a specific parent and not the other, which means absence of a parent would make them miss out on some things.
“Fathers have their own responsibilities and when a child is growing up in a family without a father figure it means that some aspects are compromised when growing up so psychologically they have a bearing later on in life,” he said.
And Nkhata Bay District gender officer, Cecelia Kaunda said her office ensures that women that have been abandoned are connected to village savings groups and to organisations that support Gender Based Violence survivors.
Kaunda added that they also refer them to the social welfare office for psychosocial support.
“We have several projects that are supporting such women in the district and we make sure we connect them so that some of the challenges they are facing are alleviated,” she said.
Moyo and Mphande’s struggles are a painful reminder of the inequality and injustice that still exists in the country. However, their struggles are far from over as the road ahead is still long and arduous.
The issue of men abandoning their children is a complex and multi-faceted problem that requires urgent attention. While there are several reasons why men may choose to abandon their children, such as financial hardship, lack of emotional maturity, or relationship breakdown, the consequences of such actions can be devastating for the children, the families involved and in the long run, even society at large.
It is important for men to understand that abandoning their children is not an option and that they have a moral and legal responsibility to provide for and support their children.
To prevent men from abandoning their children, society must create a support system that addresses the underlying issues that lead to such behaviour.