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Last Updated: Monday, 9 January 2006, 12:12 GMT
After divorce who gets the kids?
mother and child in Malawi
When a marriage breaks down and parents separate, who should be left looking after the children, and why?

This debate goes to the heart of parenting, since it demands that we work out what is best for the children. They need love and support as they grow up, but they also need basics such as food, clothes and education.

There are different customs across Africa regarding who the children stay with, whether it is mother, father or the extended family. We want to find out what happens where you live.

What should influence the decision? Who can provide the best upbringing for children? Is financial security more important than love? Should the children have a say in the decision?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments below.

When a man is not living up to his responsibilities as a man, when such separation occurs it would be better for the woman to care for the children because most marriages break down as a result of inadequate provision for the family by the man.
Ubaka, Asaba, Nigeria

In my Ghanaian Akan tradition the blood belongs to the mother whereas the spirit belongs to the father. The case is made that no cock/rooster is followed around by its little chickens. The children inherit through their mother blood line. That means the children belong to the woman and rightly so. The strangest thing is the Akans are surrounded at all fronts by other ethnic groups that are patrilineal.
Eric Kwasi Bottah, Ghanaian in USA

While my tradition holds that children belong to the man, time has come for this to change. Women of valour and love grow stronger amidst adversity and strive to show their children more love and care, compared to the men who will instead opt to show love to the new wives they've found.
Machrine, Kampala, Uganda

I think the mother should take the child because she bears the pain in giving birth to the child. When the father takes the child, he can't give that motherly care to that child, because he doesn't knows what it means to give birth to a child.
Oliver Fridy Wilson, Tubmanburg, Liberia

The man gets the kids, because he paid money to the parents of the woman before taking her home as a wife.
Mike Onwukwe, Nigeria

What should be strictly enforced is child-support payments
Louise Walker-Nthenda, UK
I think the real issue here is not who 'gets' the children but who cares for them. What should be strictly enforced is child-support payments which some African fathers clearly do not believe is their responsibility.
Louise Walker-Nthenda, UK

I strongly support that the mother should take the children. If you were to make a critical survey, you would be surprised at the big number of children who have grown up in the hands of the mothers of this content. They are strong and should be respected.
Were Richard, Maroua, Cameroon

It is not true that the mother always cares the most in a childs life. Let us not generalise. There are good fathers that care for their children too. I believe the child should stay with the father all the time.
Mark Johnson, US

It takes a village to raise a child
Lako Lukudu, Juba, South Sudan
African tradition makes the case that mothers are better off raising the kids than the fathers, but in most cases the children are taken by the father since the children traditionally belongs to the father's tribe/clan. If the mother's relatives reject, then compensation to have the kids is paid to the in-laws, in terms of livestock, grain, precious stones etc., to seal the dispute. That is when the extended family and the entire village lends a hand in rearing the children. "It takes a village to raise a child", as the famous saying goes.
Lako Lukudu, Juba, South Sudan

In my Kikuyu community, the children belong to the mother. If there is a divorce, the man parts with the children as well as some property, and gives them to the woman. If the woman does not remarry, the children can later lay claim on their fathers property even if he remarried.
Isaac Kamau, Nairobi, Kenya

African men are capable of caring for their children
Sydney Texas, Sierra Leone
African governments should institute a welfare system that supports any single parents. We have been encouraged for many years by songs like "Sweet Mother", but this is certainly not true now - African men are capable of caring for their children so let's stop making excuses for them.
Sydney Texas, Sierra Leone

If children are given an opportunity to decide, then the fathers will always be losers as in many families children are closer to the mother than they are to the father.
Kapinga Ntumba, Harare, Zimbabwe

many mothers cannot afford to care for their children
Bunchie Nufea, Monrovia, Liberia
Africans appreciate the children staying with the mother. But many mothers cannot afford to care for their children after a relationship ends, and turn to another one to sustain their children.
Bunchie Nufea, Monrovia, Liberia

If the children remain with the father (who definitely will take on another wife), experience has shown that women cannot tolerate the sight of children by another woman. That means they will be mistreated.
Grace Okeng, Antwerp, Belgium

Most of our African men feel that the women are supposed to take care of the children, cook and look after the home. Some don't even care whether the child eats or not. But 98% of the mothers will always be there looking after the children whether the father is around or not. The best place for a child is with the mother because a second wife to the father will never love that child like her own.
Dorothy Bedell, Monrovia, Liberia

African men should be made to pay child support
Frank Agudah, Texas, USA
The woman should keep the children, because they are better off without their father who now becomes a grasshopper, hopping from one woman to the other and from bar to bar drinking beer or palm wine. That is why African men should be made to pay child support as is done in the western world or do some jail time.
Frank Agudah, Texas, USA

After the child has reached a mature age, but is still at school, they should choose the parent under whose custody they will be. I have the experience of being mistreated by stepmothers and I don't wish my children to go through the same thing.
Ahmed Kateregga Musaazi, Kampala, Uganda

I hold the opinion that divorce or separation must not be granted to parties in a marital union in Africa while any of the offspring are still under the age of 21.
Anthony Okosun, Baltimore, USA.

It is wrong and morally suicidal ... to leave children in the care of mothers after divorce
Rev. Paul Bala Samura, Freetown, Sierra Leone

The subject of care for kids after divorce is very pathetic, especially in Africa where there is no welfare scheme for single parents. Children should be supported by both parents whether they are staying as couples or not. The fact of the matter is, children are gifts from God given freely and generously. It is wrong and morally suicidal, as I have seen in Africa and the USA, to leave children in the care of mothers after divorce.
Rev. Paul Bala Samura, Freetown, Sierra Leone

I take offence at the opinion that ' it is wrong and morally suicidal' to leave children with the mother after divorce. Sir, do you infer that the thousands of honourable and respectable men and women of Gods great earth are tainted because they were raised by a woman?! If anything should change it is the social acceptance that fathers can walk away from their responsibilities and start anew. Child support should be enforceable.
Vee, Stevenage, UK

Most men run away from the responsibility
Bheki Mpala, Jo'burg, South Africa
The norm in Africa is that most men run away from the responsibility, leaving it for the more caring mothers.
Bheki Mpala, Jo'burg, South Africa

I believe the mother should care for the children in the event of the parents getting divorced. All four of my mum's children including me suffered terribly in the hands of our stepmum. When we were eventually allowed to go and live with our mum, we enjoyed growing up with her despite the fact that she had re-married.
BeeJay, Nigerian in UK

Younger children should be left to the mothers as long as their father is providing the necessary assistance.
Abua Annamary, Kampala, Uganda

This is a very good topic for discussion. I am not a victim of broken marriage but I am not blind to the reality this social problem presents. If proper legislation is put in place by governments, it will help to amicably settle the issue of who gets the children after divorce.
Dixon Butty, Maryland County, Liberia

Most of the time children do not have a say
Olaoluwa Nelson, Lagos Nigeria
Over 95% of divorce in Nigeria does not go through the courts; either the man just abandons the wife and children, or the wife moves out and leaves the children in the man's care, or worst still, both leave the children at the mercy of fate. Most of the time children do not have a say in such matters. I happen to have experienced separation and I can confirm that it is the children that suffer most. Naturally the responsibility of parenting in Africa is the same as anywhere in the world. However, deep African custom believes that the care for a family is the sole responsibility of the father who is considered the head of the house.
Olaoluwa Nelson, Lagos Nigeria

Children should be left with their mother after a divorce whilst their father provides welfare, because it is only a mother that can love and nurture a child.
Chinwe, London, UK

Mother's love is made up of deep devotion, sacrifice and pain
Alpha Kapri Bangura, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
No matter the circumstances of the divorce, the father is always responsible for the child's upbringing in terms of financial and material support while the mother should take custody of the children. One thing I believe is that mother's love is made up of deep devotion, sacrifice and pain. It is endless and unselfish, enduring come what may. Hence, the child's best love is the mother.
Alpha Kapri Bangura, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

All the children need is peace and comfort and it is only the father who can offer this.
Clive Ayumbi Wankah, Cameroon

Both financial security and love are important
Muhoza Chiza, Mwanza, Tanzania
In many Africa tribes, it is traditionally granted that after divorce children go to the father of the family, even if he is economically not able to take care of them. Nevertheless, now there is a wind of change blowing. As to what should decide the issue, I find that both financial security and love are important. What would be the lot of a child, who remains with a "loving parent" but misses out on education opportunities due to economic problems? But on the other hand, would the child be able to enjoy her education under a horrible step mother?
Muhoza Chiza, Mwanza, Tanzania

Both parents are fully responsible for the children, and must both plan for their future
Hussein Lubumbash, DRC

A mother would not so readily undertake the burden of maintaining her child
PMD, London
The mother of my child wanted to get out of the marriage. I can therefore refute the idea that every mother wants to look after her children. Were it not for state encouragement, a mother would not so readily undertake the burden of maintaining her child without the help of the child's father. We have created artificial principles that put an undue burden on the state.
PMD, London

The most important thing is to leave the care of children to mothers
Peter Tuach, Minnesota, USA
Child care always is very important when handled by mothers not fathers, especially when they are still below the age of ten. No matter what, even if the government has a role in supporting minors, the most important thing is to leave the care of children to mothers rather than fathers.
Peter Tuach, Minnesota, USA

It grieves my heart to see what children pass through as a result of incidents that are beyond their control. While mothers are considered primarily responsible for their children, fathers should not just to augment, but also to take a leading role in the welfare of their children - at least for the innocent minors' sake, irrespective of the grounds for divorce.
Adewale Ajani, Nigerian in The Netherlands


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