Economic downturn eroding child maintenance benefits

BY TAKUDZWA MAHOVE 

Mothers in the Midlands Province have called on government to consider reviewing the country’s maintenance regime as the current tumultuous economic climate in Zimbabwe has left many single mothers in the country between a rock and a hard place with child maintenance allowances being eroded by the hiked prices.

In the past five month,  the price of fuel has almost tripled from around $1.30 and 1.45 per liter in September 2018 to 3.37 and $3.51 as of February 2019. In that same period, prices of basics like bread, sugar, mealie meal as well as rentals have gone up by at least 50% triggered by the fuel prices. School fees, uniform prices and transport fares have not been left behind joining the hikes regime when the first term of 2019 started.

Meanwhile nothing has changed on the salaries front and for those with RGTS Bond salaries, their value has diminished with each passing day. In all this, the single mothers have had to depend on the RTGS Bond amount granted to them by the courts as child maintenance. From the outside looking in one certainly realises the going has been tough for the mothers.

This reporter made efforts to speak to a number of single mothers in the midlands mining town of Zvishavane and in Gweru and what he heard were stories of a day by day struggle which seems to only get worse.

 “I’ve had to change my son from the private school that he was attending in 2018 to a government school, the school is now demanding part of the fees in US Dollars and coupled with uniforms and transport my salary and his father’s maintenance was no longer enough. Even at the new school I’m struggling to make ends meet” says Fadzai Musendeki (33) (real name withheld) a presenter at a local radio station. She adds that the eating habits at home have also changed and she can no-longer and she might soon have to move to a smaller apartment as the rentals are also taking their toll.

Woman shares ordeal of making ends meet on old maintenance amounts

Fadzai’s case is not isolated, this reporter also spoke to Cecilia Banda (28) who said her attempts to review the child maintenance amount have been fruitless as the father argues that his salary has not been increased and the courts have understood his plight. “Ndakadzokera kucourt muna February kuti awedzere mari but court yakanzwisisa chichemo chake nekuti haana kuwedzerwa mari kubasa.” Like many young women Cecilia is into buying and selling and the current climate has not been so favorable to her with sales dwindling and forex prices fluctuating. She said she was thinking of sending her son to stay with the mother in Filabusi because life is cheaper in the rural areas.

The plight of these women is not a Zvishavane problem, it stretches across the country and in big cities like Harare and Gweru the situation is even worse, this reporter spoke to a number of women at a saloon in Gweru they narrated their ordeal post September 2018.

Imali yemaintainance isisiba ludaba olunzima njengoba inani lemali lumi ndawonye izinto zilokhe zikhwela elizweni njalo imali yakhona ayisathengi lutho .Loba kunjalo abantwana kuyabe kufanele baye esikolo njalo bathole ukudla .Kuthi omasitanda sebefuna ama US abamukela amaBond inhlawulo yakhona iphezulu.Njengabesifazana abazigcinele abantwana babo sicela imali leyo ukuthi ihlolisiswe kakutsha ngoba izinto zikhwele nsuku zonke .Loba sile minye imsebenzi  emaceleni kodwa kunzima ukukhulisa abantwana sisodwa.” (There is need for the authorities to review maintenance laws to protect the children when the economy goes south as is the case right now, the landlords are demanding forex, it’s really difficult raising these children alone right now.) says Nozipho a 29 year old mother who has a 7 year old son. Listen to Nozipho below.

Lawyers on economic toll on maintenance benefits

Lawyer, Agnes Chatsama said benchmarking the maintenance will be very difficult as fathers will argue that their salaries are still unchanged and in the same currency as before.

She did however urge women to get actual salary details from the fathers’ employers and get to know the salary amounts and currency so as to be in a strong position when they are approach the courts. Listen to Chatsama below;

Lawyer on economic impact on maintenance benefits

The plight of single mothers and children being raised by single parents was addressed early on even before independence with the Maintenance Act Chapter 5:09 of 1971 which ensures that fathers contribute to the monthly upkeep of their children but what this reporter has unearthed suggests changes have to be made to the law to ensure that the payments fathers make remain relevant and serve their purpose even when prices skyrocket and currencies lose their value.