Missing fathers, lost children

According to British pro-family think-tank the Family Matters Institute, almost all juvenile offenders come from broken homes. Youth delinquency is seen as a direct result of the collapse of the family unit and the decline of marriage. The cost to the British taxpayer has been calculated at tens of billions of pounds a year, with the cost to young people � that of broken dreams and lost opportunities � incalculable.

Institute director Dr Clifford Hill was recently on a panel of family experts addressing the House of Lords. He said: �without the security from family relationships, children will lose their identity, leading to personal instability and emotional problems�.

The Institute�s research concurs with findings here in New Zealand, which show that children from broken homes face significantly greater risk factors than children from stable two-parent families. Commonsense also tells us that children do better if they have the support of both a loving mother and father who are focussed on their well-being and progress. In fact, in an ideal world, a basic right for children would be to have a mum and dad who love them to bits.

Having children is one of the most important decisions a couple can make. Becoming a parent is a huge, life-long responsibility. Children raised well go on to make significant contributions to family, work, community and society in general. Children raised poorly, on the other hand, often not only fail to achieve their own potential in life but � as the Family Matters Institute calculated � will become an enormous drain on society.

It is for these reasons that I find the answers to recent Parliamentary Questions � showing an increase in the number of DPB mothers who refuse to name the father of their child � so disturbing. The answers show that there are now 18,161 sole mothers on the DPB who, because they refuse to name the father of their child, are subjected to a Section 70A deduction � an increase of more than 2,000 this year alone. This means that one mother in six on the taxpayer-funded DPB is now refusing to name the father of her child. As a result, 34,685 New Zealand children have no father listed on their birth certificate. This is a scandalous, State-sanctioned breach of what should surely be regarded as a basic right of any child � to know the identity of their father.

While some of these children will undoubtedly know who their dads are, many others will not. Most will be like the woman who recently shared her story of a long, protracted and so far depressingly fruitless search for the identity of her father. She believes � as do I � that knowing your father�s identity is as fundamentally important as knowing your country of birth. In addition, old-fashioned commonsense tells us that having accurate birth records is vital if a society is to avoid intermarriage and all of the associated problems that can bring.

But, so far, the Government has paid only lip service to sorting out this vexing issue. By increasing the Section 70A deduction by the rate of inflation � only a few dollars a week � Labour is effectively condoning increasing fatherlessness and putting more and more children at risk. Further, by failing to require mothers on a State benefit to name the fathers of their children, Labour is forcing taxpayers to shoulder financial responsibilities that should rightly belong to fathers. These unnamed father figures are a national disgrace. While a small minority of women will have become pregnant by force � and deserve all of our sympathy and understanding in being unwilling to name the father � the majority of cases will not be in that situation.

In general, a father is not named on a child�s birth certificate because parents are putting their own needs, wants and desires ahead of the good of their child: either consent has been refused, or the couple has entered into an agreement to avoid legal child support liabilities. In cases where consent has been refused, sometimes it is because the mother no longer wants the father around � often despite his very real desire to actively be involved in supporting and raising his child. More often than not, however, it is because the father doesn�t want his �other� family to find out about the child.

In light of the unequivocal evidence that children with fathers almost always do better than those without, it is vital that this growing trend of State-sanctioned fatherlessness is stemmed. That means sorting out the problems that are giving rise to this unacceptable practice, and refining the laws that are discouraging responsible attitudes towards child-rearing. It is long past time that our child support laws underwent a complete overhaul. Since our current unjust and unfair Kiwi-style system has lead to massive non-compliance and collusion, we should surely be looking to emulate international successes.

Firstly, shared parenting should be introduced as a normal custodial arrangement, so that both a mother and a father are jointly responsible for their child.

Secondly, child support should be paid directly to the children and parent, rather than to the IRD.

And, thirdly, the family circumstances of all parties should be considered when liabilities are being determined.

Naming the father of a child should become a pre-requisite of DPB eligibility. In this day and age, where simple DNA testing can be used to determine paternity, all children should � by law � have their father�s name on their birth certificate.

It remains difficult to understand why � in a society that successfully requires millions of dogs, cars and firearms to have certificates with registered owners � we cannot ensure that the 34,685 children identified in the Parliamentary replies I have received have a certificate with a registered father!

It is long past time for change.

Dr Muriel Newman
29 July 2004


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