How divorce impacts children

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At times for couples, marriage misunderstandings can culminate into divorce, forgetting about the welfare of their children. When it comes to divorce, most couples always think first of what each other would either get or lose after the break-up. The hatred and intense dislike for each other overpower their minds to the extent that children become secondary.

Although it is something that has been legally accepted by the society, whatever the case, divorce is not considered as a normal thing as opposed to marriage. Legal practitioners, including Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC), say separation can only be termed as divorce if it has been filed and granted by a court of law.

Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA) Legal Officer at the organisation’s Crisis Resolving Centre Loyce Gondwe says they received over 300 complaints of marital conflicts, in which the parties sought divorce.

“Most of them (women) come for counselling while majority sought legal advice for divorce. Most of these women confessed to have experience violence and abuse in their marriages,” says Loyce.

“We always offer them counselling and advice them to resolve whatever marital conflict they have been undergoing. However, most of the women come with a decision in their mind. They want to file for a divorce,” she says.

The National Panel Survey of 2014/15 carried out on Tanzania’s households by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that in just six years span, divorce rate has doubled. The report shows that the rate of divorce has increased from 1.1 per cent in 2008/09 to 2.1 per cent in 2014/15.

It is very likely that the recorded increase in divorce cases are those which were filed in the court of law; thus does not reflect the reality on the ground as most couples separate without the court consent. For WLAC, “a written or verbal divorce by spouses themselves is not recognised under the Marriage Act.” A part of WLAC booklet on marriage law issued in 2013 reads: “A divorce must be decided by a court of law so that the rights of either of the couple are clearly declared.”

Today, incidences of divorce are on the rise, threatening the very survival and the future of families, the most powerful social institution in the society. Divorce, mostly caused by marital conflicts, have cost the children dearly as it reaches a time when they find themselves in a dilemma of siding with either of the parent.

Anna John, 28, is one among many who experienced the difficulties of parents’ split. She has been living with her mother since she was 3-year-old. Her divorced parents lived far apart. By then she was not aware that her parents had divorced. However, she still has the memories of marital conflict, misunderstandings and ill feeling her parents had against each other.

Anna says while growing up, she did not feel the impact of her parents’ split until when she turned 8-years-old. She observed other children living with their parents. She started asking her mother questions she couldn’t answer. Neither her mother nor her father told her the truth that they divorced.

“Life went on like that. Though I could meet and speak to my father in very rare circumstances as my mother wouldn’t allow me to spend an ample time with my father. I really missed him during my childhood,” says Anna.

Anna started to feel the pinch of parents’ split at school. After graduation, she was lucky to find a job and her fiancé asked for her hand in marriage. “It was during this time I came to realise how divorce could affect children’s life through to adulthood,” she says.

“Each of my parents wanted to host the ceremony from receiving the dowry to send-off party. I hated taking sides, especially when it comes to parents. It was a very difficult time of my life,” says Anna, an accountant.

Anna says she thank God that her marriage relationship is going on well and she prays to God that what happened to her parents does not happen to her. “My parents’ divorce has not affected me in my marriage life despite some challenges. I think we should learn from mistakes and past experience,” she says.

According to a report on Illinois Times website, “divorce affects most children after the initial blow”. It states that children may go through a grieving period in which they feel a loss of a two-parent home, loss of relationships with extended family, or a loss of friends if they have to move to a new house and attend a new school.

In a 2002 study, psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington of the University of Virginia and her then graduate student Anne Mitchell Elmore, found that many children experience negative effects from divorce, especially anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief.

Researchers have consistently found that high levels of parental conflict during and after a divorce are associated with poorer adjustment in children. The effects of conflict before the separation, however, may be the reverse in some cases. Apparently when marital conflict is muted, children are often unprepared when told about the upcoming divorce. They are surprised, perhaps even terrified, by the news. In addition, children from high-discord families may experience the divorce as a welcome relief from their parents’ fighting.

Robert Mwinuka says the wife married another man just few months after they divorced. For him, marrying another man wasn’t a big deal as they were already divorced. However, the feeling of failing to explain to his two children about their mother’s marrying another man let alone circumstances of divorcing their mother hurt him. “She married another man three months after we divorced, leaving our two children, a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl, under my custody. So I decided to take them to my sister and she really helped me raise the children,” says Mwinuka.

According to him, the situation affected his daughter more than the son. “My daughter failed to come to terms with her mother leaving us. She saw our marital conflict growing day by day and later the divorce. Now, 15 years later, she still harbours hatred towards her mother. She doesn’t even want to see her,” says Mwinuka, who works as casual labourer in Iringa.

Ilonge Lyelu, a parent, says most children have experienced hard times during both marital conflicts that lead to divorce as well as the transition period after their parents separate from each other.

“Parents need to know that their marital conflict and divorce negatively affect the children,” advices Lyelu.

“ A child needs both parents to become a responsible citizens. It is very likely that a child who has been raised by a single parent might become lonely and unhappy. On top of that they will always take sides and tend to lose respect for one of their parents,” he says.

For children, Lyelu observes that divorce might increases the risk of suffering from psychological and behavioural problems. “Some of these children tend to engage themselves with bad groups and become troublesome. Sometimes they develop problems with anger; they become disobedient. Most children with divorced parents end up on streets, some drop out from school, and if they manage to continue with studies, their academic performance always become poor,” he adds.

In his view, Pastor Joseph Masegela says divorce is still a huge problem which is on the rise every day. Having worked for almost 15 years as the secretary general in children’s department at the Tanzania Assemblies of God church in Dar es Salaam, pastor Masegela has came across many children who suffer after their parents divorced.

“They live like orphans while both of their parents are still alive. They live unhappily and are affected psychologically. Most of them ended up living in on street,” he says.

Pastor Masegela advises divorced parents to ensure that their marital conflict does not affect children’s welfare. “Parents should help their children to understand why they have reached a decision to divorce each other. Any one of them who would remain custodian of their children should show them the right path instead of cultivating hatred and ill feelings against each other,” urges Pastor Masegela.

Lyelu shares a similar opinion with pastor Masegela. He advises parents not to run for divorce instead they should find ways to resolve any marital dispute that arises between them. “If it happens that divorce is necessary, then, parents should ensure that they create conducive environment for their children to enjoy having frequent audience with both of their parents,” he advices.

“Let parents visit and communicate with their children so often. They should also ensure that their children’s welfare is guaranteed by providing them with basic needs,” adds Lyelu, advising divorced parents not to rush in starting a new relationship immediately after their split.

Pastor George Fupe from Lutheran Church at Kariakoo in Dar es Salaam says children lack parental love when their parents divorce. “Most of them find themselves living with a single parent. It is obvious that these children will miss the family connection from relatives of the other parent who is not living with them,” he observes.

In an earlier interview with Life & Style, Sheikh Khamis Mataka, the chairman of the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata), says divorce cases are on the rise because people don’t take time to know about one another well.

“Before one marries, one should know if his/her partner has all the qualities required, including satisfying yourself with her/his behaviour, family background and social ability,” Sheikh Mataka explains.

“Unfortunately, nowadays things are different. It is very likely that married couples do not know much about their spouses; be it their behaviour, personal or family background, or health history,” says Sheikh Mataka.

Aaron Nkini, a psychologist, says divorce has adverse effects towards children welfare, especially when parents split when the children are at very young age. “It might affect their learning; they may develop hostility, anger and negative thinking. They might end up having depression too,” he says, adding that in most cases, children whose parents divorced are more likely to end up in a similar situation like their parent when they grew up.

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