Children held hostages by parental stubbornness The National Coalition for the Rights of the Child, recommends that The Centres for Social Work in the divorcee procedure should take into account the rights of the child and which parent the child wants to live with as well as with whom the child has established a deep emotional relationship.
In front of my eyes my wife kidnapped the child! After giving birth, rather than come back home with the baby, she immediately went to her parents and asked for divorce. Not only that she wants to leave me without the child but she doesn’t even care that the child will be left without a father. Now she is neither looking after the child nor is she allowing me to look after them. The child is growing up with the grandparents, but without a father or mother.
This is a story of a father from Skopje, who like other thousands of men is leading an institutional battle to be the father of his child for ‘’more than four days a month’’. Unlike them, thousands of others do not want to be a parent to their children, not even for a day and after the divorce they forget that the child needs a father.
- My heart is tearing up when the children stand at the window and watch the parking lot to see their father's car comes. They cry for an hour, waiting for the father to take them, but he is nowhere to be seen.
To calm them down, I must tell stories that he was very busy so he could not come. He left me the children and disappeared. Why did he marry then? Does he think of the children? Does he ever think that they might be missing him? – said thirty years old mother form Skopje.
Together with other parents she thinks that country needs new legal provisions, taking the needs of children more into account.
According to statistics, from 2000 until last year every tenth of the state marriage ended in divorce. Average age of divorced women is 24 years and the highest percentage of divorced men is 27 years of age. After the termination of their marriage or cohabitation, former spouses continue their mutual conflicts, in which the biggest victims are the children.
Experts believe that the psychological effects of such condition in the children are much more serious than parents are aware of.
- Shortly before the divorce, during or after the divorce procedure or until established normal communication between themselves, spouses forget about their children. They forget that the children are also witnesses of all the conflict situations and the reasons to get divorce. How the children perceive all of that is rarely asked. Even less, has someone asked these children how they feel in those moments? Such a condition may cause certain psychological states of guilt. Children think that the have done something wrong, so Mum and Dad are no longer together. They blame themselves, they withdraw and they isolate and feel different from other children. Such behaviour is not normal, and the psychological development of children goes backwards instead of forward - said Biljana Koprova, a specialist in medical psychology.
She believes that for a healthy psychological development of a child both parents are needed at any time.
- It is common in our environment for divorce spouse’s children to remain with the mother. However, regardless of gender or the child will, it will lack identification with the other parent, the father. All psychological tests show the importance of both parents, it is not important whether the child is male or female – stated Koprova.
According to her, when divorce occurred institutions make rules for parents, not children, who have a need to see both their parent. Regardless of their age, the children are not spared from the psychological stress, trauma and rejection experience.
- Children are dependent on their parents emotionally, psychologically, material and physical, ie in all aspects. For the child there is no meaning of the term divorce. For them it is important what they see, and that Mum and Dad are not together is the primary focus, that they do not love each other and this experience is perceived to include them. Since experience itself has some unity with the parents, regardless of which parent will be separated, it is normal that in later life they will feel post traumatised, because they will miss part of them- says Koprova.
Damaging children's rights
The current legal provisions are restricting the rights of children by not allowing their fathers to spend more time with them, according to the civil society "Emotionally healthy childhood."
- Everyone only cares whether the mother or the father is seeing their children but no one takes into account whether the children are seeing their parents. The aim of the Association is to represent the interests of the child, their emotional needs, desires and rights. It is obvious that when drafting the Law on family there was no present official to defend the interests of children. We are in contact with the appropriate institutions, and work intensively with the Chamber of psychologists, who need to prepare a professional opinion concerning what is best for the child. That opinion will be used in the preparation of new legislation - said Vlatko Popovski, president of the Association.
He explained that apart from men, the association allows women members who want to pressure irresponsible fathers to devote more attention to their children and regularly pay their alimony.
Which parent will be entrusted the child or the children is strictly defined under the family Law and does not take into account previous patterns of dependency according to Inter-Municipality Centre for Social Affairs in Skopje.
- Whether the spouses have decided to divorce by agreement or on the basis of the complaint, the Court seeks an opinion from the Centre to which parent to entrust the child. Usually, three-month period is left to the spouses to find ways to reconcile and stay together because that is best for their children.
If however the marriage fails, a team of psychologists, social workers, teachers and lawyers (if necessary) consider the situation and talk with the parents and the children and then forming decision concerning to which parent to entrust the child. Making the decision favouring either parent is not allowed, the two are equal, because every case is different - says the centre.
However, experts believe there is a room to make some improvements in the existing solutions in the family law. They emphasize that, for example, in neighbouring countries the Court makes the decision and that decision must be respected where that’s not the case in Macedonia– visiting rights solutions, which are made by the centres, are constantly changing often as a result of the stubbornness of one parent.
New legal solutions
Disrespecting the children's rights in terms of maintaining contact with the parents who do not live with them is found by the Ombudsman and different NGOs.
"The Social Work Centres in the divorce procedure need to take into account the rights of the child and who they want to live with. Taking into account with which parent they have achieved the more stable emotional relationship. All of these points need to be taken into account because they are as important as the material and economic conditions that the parents have. This is a recommendation that the National Coalition for the Rights of the Child, coordinated by the First Children's Embassy in the world ‘Megjasi’ recently published in the Alternative NGO report towards the state reports for the condition of the children’s rights in the Republic of Macedonia.
The Ombudsman's office said that over the past few years most of the complaints regarding children's rights are related to the exercise of the rights of the children to maintain personal and direct contacts with the parent who they do not live with.
- The most common problem is not executing the decision made by the social work centres for the fulfilment of those contacts, which, despite our interventions and information submitted to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, this situation is still difficult to achieve.
Due to lack of effective and practical mechanisms for carrying out the decisions, often this right was very difficult to achieve because of the one of the parents, and centres were left with no recourse or indeed any significant stringent measures- says Nevenka Krusarovska, Deputy Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman thinks that before making a decision concerning the children and parents, the centres rarely supervise and monitor the performance of the parental rights and responsibilities, so they decisions in practice are difficult to implement.
- In practice what often happens is that the child refuses to maintain contact with the parent who does not live with them and the centres respecting the child's statements, "throw up their hands" give up on the case and take no other measures. However, the centres rarely investigate why the child refuses to see the other parent - whether because of the bad and inappropriate relationship between parent and the child or because of instructions and threats from the parent which they live with. Therefore, professional teams in the centres should evaluate any statement by the child and carry out supervision over the rights of the parents to assess whether the child gave a statement because of the abuse and pressure from one of the parents – it was said from the office.