Divorced fathers crave for shared parenting (June 20 is Father’s Day)

By Vishal Gulati, IANS
Sunday, June 20, 2010

SHIMLA - This Father’s Day, divorced men are seeking their due. An NGO with more than 2,500 members across the country has taken up their cause, saying shared parenting and joint custody of children should be implemented as a rule in divorce or separation cases.

Bangalore-based Children’s Rights Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP) points out that children have a right to remain connected to both parents after a divorce.

“On Father’s Day, we demand the basic rights of children to access both biological parents. For this, there is a need for implementing shared parenting and joint custody as a rule in separation and divorce cases,” CRISP founder president Kumar V. Jahgirdar, who was visiting Shimla, told IANS.

“Our laws are wife-centric - from the custody of children for divorced couples to allegations of domestic violence to dowry harassment. We are demanding the setting up of special guardian courts in major cities,” he said.

CRISP with its regional chapters in Chandigarh, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow has been fighting to constitute a separate ministry for the welfare of children who face problems after the divorce of their parents.

“Since 40 percent of the country’s population is children, our demand to bifurcate the union women and child development ministry is genuine,” said Jahgirdar, who is fighting for shared parenting of his daughter with his ex-wife.

Shiva Kumar, a divorced software engineer, said: “Despite a court’s order, my wife is not allowing me to meet my 11-year-old son. For more than five years, I have not seen him.”

He blamed the centuries-old laws that are exploited by married women and their families. “We want laws that stop the creation of a fatherless society,” he said.

S.P. Sidhu, a leading lawyer based in Chandigarh, said: “As per law, a child below the age of five always remains in the custody of the mother and the father doesn’t have the right bring him or her up.

“Even if the child is more than five years old, the court generally favours the mother for custody. However, only in exceptional cases the court gives custody to a father, that too after he convinces the court that the mother is not taking care of the child well,” he said.

“We have even come across cases where the mother discourages the child to meet the father even after he has won the right to meet the child,” Sidhu added.

Nitin Gupta, secretary of the Chandigarh CRISP chapter, said parental alienation often occurs when one parent gets children estranged from the other parent for personal vendetta.

“We have seen that the child is brainwashed by the dominant parent against the non-custodial parent, usually the father. This brings a lot of mental distress and trauma not only to the child and but also to the alienated parent,” Gupta said.

Jahgirdar said the Indian legal system and society at large is still based on a patriarchal mindset which considers fathers incapable of nurturing children.

“This is totally incorrect. Men are as capable as women to be caregivers and bring up children in a normal way,” he said.

“We are trying to impress upon the government to allow shared parenting like allowing the children to stay with their father on vacations or weekends,” he said.

According to the data available with CRISP, over 15,000 divorce cases are pending in Bangalore alone. The figure was collected from family courts.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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