Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Divorcee dads fight for their children’s rights

Divorcee dads fight for their children’s rights

TNN | Mar 24, 2014, 04.26 AM IST

PANAJI: Looking to protect children stuck in the crossfire of messy divorces, Bangalore-based Children's Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP) has opened a branch in Goa. The NGO is largely managed by injured divorcee-fathers who have been denied custody of their children, and in a strange twist are waging war on the 'patriarchal mindset' of the Indian legal system that considers fathers incapable of nurturing children. 

Having fought a long-drawn out custody battle for his daughter, especially one that was in the media spotlight because his ex-wife had married a cricketer ; the founder of CRISP, Bangalorean stockbroker Kumar Jahgirdar had a front seat view of the damage inflicted on the child's sense of security, her psychological and emotional well-being by sparring parents. 

"When a marriage ends badly, the two partners tend to use the legal system to hurt each other and stroke their own egos. The child's needs lose precedence; the child is first used as leverage and then ends up as spoils of war—in the process, witnessing such malevolence in his/her formative years," says Kumar. 

He also complains of the glaring gender-bias displayed by Indian courts in favour of mothers. "While CRISP is gender-neutral, with quite a few female members as well, one has to admit that fathers get the raw deal in custody agreements. If the father is unmarried, the court complains that there is no female member to care for the child. If the father re-marries, they deny custody on grounds that the child would not be treated well by the stepmother," he says, speaking from his own experience. 

"There is urgent need for a special commission, led by a panel of experts like child psychologists and activists to step in, counsel the parents and convince them to share custody of the children, even before they apply for divorce. This will also help avoid parental abduction, where the custodial parent takes the child to another country without the permission of the other—a problem rampant in Goa," adds realtor Remiz Cardoz, who heads the Goa chapter of CRISP. 

The NGO has 30,000 members across its five other branches in India, who lurk around family courts to guide divorcing partners, conduct awareness meetings for the legal community, and generally provide support to non-custodial parents and their families. They also offer a network of psychiatrists and lawyers who work pro-bono to help parents in these situations. 

"We are getting even more aggressive with our campaign ahead of the elections, to send out a strong message to all parents: Only vote for the party that guarantees protection of children's rights in their manifesto. Even though children account for 40% of India's population, no political party is interested in taking up their problems because they are not a vote bank," says Kumar, who is pushing for a separate Union ministry for children. "Children's rights are completely different from women's rights and it does not make sense that they are clubbed together," he adds.