Knocked up out of wedlock

Boy meets girl. Girl likes boy- one thing leads to another and nine months later along comes a baby.

This, of course is the super edited version of how a young man and woman meet, become intimately involved in a relationship and later have a child.

The couple has conveniently skipped the part which society expects before two people decide- or end up- with a child, and that is the wonderful wedding day and the days of courting (does that still happen?) which usually precede the marriage proposal and eventual wedding day.

This is not always the case. In fact, it seems as if globally more women are bearing children out of wedlock. This brings me to the topic of this article that I meant to write after the birth of my first child.

The interesting thing about life is that when something is meant to happen, it always happens: some call it fate, others call it destiny. In any event, a few years and another baby later, I find myself again in a position to write about being knocked up out of wedlock. These words were destined to be written.

My knowledge of practiced Setswana traditions could certainly be improved- and although I am for the most part an eager pupil, it has been with much awe, and sometimes apprehension that I have learned many of the traditions associated with a pregnant, unmarried Motswana woman.

I am sure to many of you reading this; these are not topics worthy of discussion because it is just the way things are. For me and my worldly upbringing, many of these traditions are new and dare I even say bizarre at times.

I'll skip the uncomfortable conversation held with my mother announcing the imminent birth of her grandchild and fast forward straight to the meeting held between my uncles and the parents of the lad who dared to impregnate one (not so) innocent lass.

What interests me most about this meeting is not the fact that the two people who have made this meeting possible are nowhere to be seen during the discussion. The girl's family has also not attended the meeting to announce the wonderful news of a yet unborn child. Rather the job at hand is to (seemingly) reprimand the lad's family for the trespassing of their son.

No, what interests me the most about this initial meeting is the fact that the girl's parents send representatives. I always imagined this was to prevent a brawl between the lad and the innocent girl's father. That would have been a sight to behold. 
After months of pregnancy and hours of excruciating labour, a child is born. So excited about the birth of the bundle of joy and determined the baby should grow up knowing who he is, I looked forward to writing my name as well as the father's on the Birth Registration form.

I hit a brick wall when the nurse at the hospital informs me I am forbidden by law to write his name on the form as I am not married. I am informed that in order for the name of the father to be written on the birth certificate, he would have to present himself or sign an affidavit and present it to a magistrate.

After all of this was done, then and only then can the father of a child born out of wedlock be written on the birth certificate of a child in Botswana. I thought this was madness.

So bothered by this experience of not being able to write the name of my child's father on the registration form, and dreading what I know is going to be a very tedious  procedure  in eventually getting it on the birth certificate, I am inspired to do some research.

I stumble upon the Children's Act of 2009. The Bill of Child Rights clearly states "the birth certificate shall indicate the name, citizenship and address of the biological mother and biological father of the child whether the child is born in or out of wedlock." Furthermore, the Children's Act states that every child has a "right to know and be cared for by parents." 

I do recognise that the child in this instance has a right to know who his father is and also that the child's birth certificate shall indicate the name of the father. My question; however is why we have to go through such a hassle to eventually have it on the birth certificate.

Why does the father have to present himself before a magistrate and admit that he is the father and get affidavits signed and the rest before he is known officially as the father? What happens then if the father decides he doesn't want to be considered the father or if he denies his paternity? Well, it seems the law has made provision for this as well.

The Affiliation Proceedings Act is "an Act to provide for the determination of the paternity of an illegitimate child and to provide for the making of orders for the maintenance of such children and other matters connected therewith and for matters incidental thereto."  Under this Act, the law allows for a paternity order or a maintenance order to be served. On paper, I am sure this sounds a lot easier than it actually is in reality.

Although the laws of the land seem to have all bases covered, I argue that they are not very friendly towards the unmarried mother. Looking at the fact that a large number of women in Botswana are having children out of wedlock, would it not make sense for the laws, which ensure a father's responsibility of his child, are made more user friendly? 

Not everyone feels that things should be made easy for the unmarried mother and the child, however. In an argument which only stands in nations where abortion is legal, but I thought would be interesting to include, some blogger named Gregory Foreman asserts the following:

"There is a reasonable analysis that the requirement that fathers support their children who are born out-of-wedlock is inconsistent with a woman's right to choose abortion: If mothers can choose parenthood, why shouldn't fathers have that same choice? The claim is that by having sex with a woman, a man loses the right to disclaim paternity if the woman ends up pregnant. If it is offensive to be using the state's coercive police powers to make pregnant women become mothers, it should be equally offensive to use those same powers to make men who impregnate women, fathers."

Hard numbers and statistics on just how many women in Botswana have children out of wedlock are hard to come by, but the Alan Guttmacher Institute in 1998 found the following: "Where strong cultural norms link marriage and fertility, nonmarital childbearing is likely to be especially visible among adolescents.

Worldwide trends such as younger age of reproductive maturity, later age of marriage for women, improvements in women's reproductive (and overall) health, and changing social norms and attitudes have contributed to an increase in premarital sexual activity among adolescents." The research from the Institute goes on to say "a common consequence of these trends is a high level of nonmarital fertility among adolescents. For example in Botswana and Namibia, three-fourths of births to adolescents are nonmarital."

The US Department of Health and Human Services data from its Natality Data Study, National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) key findings show an increase in out of wedlock births and its data: " childbearing by unmarried women has resumed a steep climb since 2002, births to unmarried women totaled 1,714,643 in 2007, 26 percent more than in 2002.

Nearly four in 10 births in the U.S were to unmarried women in 2007, births rates have risen considerably for unmarried women in their 20s and over, while declining or changing little for unmarried teenagers."  The US Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States shows other high numbers of births to unmarried women in countries such as Denmark, where in 2008, 46.2 percent births where to unmarried women, Sweden where the number for the same year is high at 54.7 percent and France with 52.6 percent.

Maybe the story of long courtship leading up to marriage which in turn leads to having children isn't actually the norm, but is fast becoming the ideal- not necessarily mine, however.  Much as I love the father of my children, there are after all "different strokes for different folks."  I am left discovering more quirky, rich and beautiful Setswana traditions associated with my being the unwed mother of two.

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