Women who just want a child and not the stress of a man

In one of those evenings, sitting encircled by the silhouettes of fenesi trees (jackfruit) outside Diana’s chang’aa den – that absinthe consumed in pitch darkness because it is illegal – I heard the story of a deadbeat.

A childhood friend turned to me and said, “You know, you have become one of us.” The conversation about who can marry in which homestead became more animated as the flickering firelight from the drink made him break into sheepish grins, his mouth wide open.

My father moved to Busia in 1999 after being retrenched as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustments were coming full circle. This situation mirrored what Kenya is experiencing today.

The IMF had determined that Kenya’s inflation in the long run was influenced more by exchange rates. The IMF also considered foreign price levels and terms of trade rather than money supply. Another contributing factor was the shortage of maize every two to three years when Kenya experiences droughts.

Soaring inflation

The proposed solution was to raise rates fast enough to attract international capital into the market, allowing the currency to unravel and causing soaring inflation and a recession. Investments all shifted to the government, ignoring the economy, and domestic demand thinned out. Only foreigners and exporters gained on the tanking local currency.

The shockwaves from the pain of the economic downturn that was pushing him out of Nairobi saw him settle in Busia. Here, he found himself among the bakhabi clan, trying to educate his children in a village school. Increasingly, he also limited expenditure by staying in his own house. Like many parents who had been working away from their families at the time, his retrenchment brought him home to us, to the little town that shaped me.

I had grown up among the bakhabi and still return there every so often, as if attached to its umbilical cord. So, my friend declared that I was one of them. Seeing that I had nodded into his conspiracy, he told me a story about his youthful years in Nairobi. He said, “You know those women who say, ‘I do not want a husband, just give me a baby’… I have been with one of them.”

“Believe me,” he said, “those were the days I was in Nairobi. We used to come there as cooks and cleaners for those wealthy people from around here who worked in Nairobi.” He said he met this lady who claimed she just wanted a child, asking, “Who was he? Yeye ni nani?” He was young and virile, seeking the warmth of Busia sun in freezing July weather.

He mentioned that years later, his wife came home with a display on a mobile phone bearing his details. To his surprise, my good friend was trending on the internet. He claimed to have recognized the woman, and the boy definitely had his features. So, yeye ameanikwa, mpaka kwa internet (he has been publicly shamed on the internet).

When single parenting is a choice

He is talking about a wave that started in September 2014 when Jackson Njeru and his friends set up a Facebook group, Dead Beat Kenya. It aimed to assist parents who could not afford the judicial process in making claims in the court of public opinion.

Previously, my assumption has always been that deadbeats are neglectful. All along, I was forgetting instances, like in my friend’s case, where single parenting is a choice ab initio. Some of today’s modern, empowered women in a rapidly urbanizing society are finding marriages traditional and unaffordable. The proportion of women having children found to be married has reduced from 87.3 percent in 2019 to 85.6 percent last year. Watch here

Single mothers are also born out of juveniles where a large number of young women are denied contraceptives. This theocratic stance by the government is giving rise to fatherless children. Almost half of pregnancies among women aged 15 and 19 are unintended.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) attributes the rise of fatherlessness to out-of-wedlock births. Other causes are migration for work, early teenage pregnancies, and the evasion of paternal responsibility. Socio-cultural issues and poor reproductive health knowledge also contribute to the causes.

Furthermore, divorce, separation, and the death of a spouse or both parents are also contributing factors. Data shows that single women giving birth have increased from 11.9 percent in 2019 to 13.9 percent last year. This is creating a serious socio-economic and destabilizing demographic of children who grow up without fathers. Unfortunately, these children are more likely to struggle economically and end up in crime.

Read also: Single parenting without the social support system

Fathers influence emotional balance of their children

Studies have shown that a father’s involvement in a child’s life gives them a head start in life and contributes to higher cognitive development, emotional balance, and social competence. Present fathers also have an indirect positive impact on children by being there for mothers undergoing post-partum mental health complications, which helps produce positive outcomes for children.

On the other hand, children with absent fathers are likely to engage in delinquent behavior and often find themselves grappling with substance abuse, truancy, thieving, and gang violence. Having an involved father predicts a lower likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, including early sexual activity and pregnancy. Children with involved fathers also have significantly reduced rates of suicide, criminal activity, and incarceration.

According to a 2009 informal survey by Transform Nations, 78 percent of inmates at Industrial Area Prison grew up in fatherless homes, and in Nairobi West Prison, about 72 percent grew up in homes without fathers.

Many countries have walked this urbanization path before us. In the West, marriages are losing value, with currently 40 percent of births occurring outside wedlock due to higher divorce rates and a reimagined idea of family. Unfortunately, this trend has played out with higher numbers of single parents in poor neighborhoods, which are often riddled with a cycle of crime and poverty.

In the Far East, sanctions against out-of-wedlock children remain in force to curtail the rise of single parents. Currently, only about 5 percent of women are having children out of wedlock in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

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