By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
Representative of the Sixth Electoral District Alvera Maduro-Caines ran into masculine correction yesterday when she went soft on women while rebuking men for not paying child maintenance.
She also suggested that the House of Assembly should not be asked to legislate on “often illusion-filled scenarios” of mothers misusing the money they receive from fathers for child support.
“Let the mother’s conscience be their guide and your (fathers’) conscience should be your guide to never allow your child to go without care,” Maduro-Caines said during a debate on the new Child Maintenance and Access Bill, which was passed last night with amendments privately made among lawmakers.
Maduro-Caines openly outlined a number of what she said are “often illusion-filled” scenarios that men mention when they are reluctant to pay child support.
“The stories are varying, but they are always colourful: ‘mothers spend the money for the child on their hair weave, or on their nails, or on other children who are not theirs, or on a new partner.”
“This Honourable House cannot be asked to evaluate these often illusion-filled scenarios. And, even though sometimes you may find small pockets of truth, a father who has knowingly fathered a child should do what he has to do,” Maduro-Caines emphasized.
Her comments did not sit well with Opposition lawmaker Julian Fraser, who thought she was being one-sided in her assessment as it relates to gender.
“My colleague got up and talk about the men, the men, the men. It’s not only men; it’s not only men.I know some women who get the money and the child don’t see it. It’s all of them, and one is too many,” Fraser reasoned.
Deputy Premier and representative of the Seventh Electoral District Dr Kedrick Pickering also weighed in: “The issues between man and woman are not simple issues. I had to chide my honourable colleague from the Sixth District (Alvera Maduro-Caines). She was making it sound like only the male delinquent… It’s mutual gender.”
During the debate, which touched on various other issues, minister responsible for youth affairs Myron Walwyn welcomed the fact that women are also being made to pay child maintenance under the proposed law, which he described as gender mutual.
“Most times in situations where there is a breakdown in the family structure, the child often resides with the mother. And so the father, in most instances, is the one who has to do his part in making sure that he has to maintain the household where the children reside.”
“But there are few situations as well where the child resides with the father. And so, what this piece of legislation is saying is that there is also an obligation on the mother who is a parent as well to make sure that she does her part,” added Walwyn.
He noted that a parent, under the Bill, is defined as the mother or father of the child. The parent can also be any person liable by law to maintain a child or to be in custody of the child.
“What I like about the Act is that it doesn’t discriminate between mother and father. And that is sometimes something that we have to correct in the community. The responsibility for maintaining a child is the responsibility of both the parents,” Walwyn noted.
According to the government, the Child Maintenance and Access Bill seeks to establish a comprehensive regime to ensure parents provide adequate maintenance for their children. It also seeks to ensure both parents have access to their child in order to participate in the child’s upbringing.
The Bill, which was piloted by Minister of Health and Social Development Ronnie Skelton, proposes the garnishing of salaries and other measures to force delinquent parents to pay child maintenance.
The toughest penalty for a delinquent parent is up to six months imprisonment, enforceable if a parent willfully fails to pay child support.
Also, the proposed law states that a person who misuses money paid over for child support is liable on summary conviction ‘to a fine not exceeding $1,000 OR to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six weeks – OR both’. The offender will also be made to repay the ‘misapplied’ funds.