What you need to know:
- Once frowned upon, it now appears to be glorified and perpetuated as an enviable lifestyle of our times
- Sociologists say the trend is an indication of waning cultural norms
About a month ago, the House of Grace Bishop David Muriithi was disgraced for breaking the seventh commandment in the bible: “Do not commit adultery”.
The man of the cloth broke the laws of Moses and had to face the laws of the land when his ex-lover or baby mama moved to court to compel him to pay child support for a baby he sired out of wedlock.
The bishop did not deny having a relationship but claimed he didn’t know there was a baby as a result. He committed to pay Sh10,000 monthly, but first called for a paternity test to ascertain if the baby is indeed his.
“As much as I am a Bishop in the church that I head, it is not true that I live a high-end life. That is the figment of the applicant’s imagination,” pleaded the father of five, noting that the lover may have conceived in order to "get a slice of the high-end life."
The Bishop is the latest to be caught up in the endless list of men facing baby mama issues that have now become the second face of the coin that is marriage.
Baby mama was mostly a Western concept associated with African-Americans. The term derived from baby mother, is a slang for a woman who is not married to her child's father. It originated from Jamaican Creole in the 1960s.
Its equivalent for the opposite gender is “baby daddy” (or baby father), although it’s not as popular as the former because it was mostly men who used to describe their estranged partners or mothers of their illegitimate children as baby mamas.
"They definitely imply there is not a marriage—not even a common-law marriage, but rather that the child is an 'outside' child," Prof Peter L. Patrick, a linguistics professor, who studied Jamaican Creole, said of the terms baby mama and baby daddy.
Today, it’s a full-blown sub-culture that has been coopted the world over. In Africa, it has changed further the structure of the African family which had already been altered by the coming of the missionaries with Judeo-Christianity that diluted polygamy and entrenched monogamy.
As it would turn out, a number of African men did not entirely quit polygamy. They kept secret “wives” or baby mamas on the side.
Once frowned upon, it now appears to be glorified and perpetuated as an enviable lifestyle of our times, fueled by high flying celebrities, politicians and also ordinary people whose stories never get to be told because of their status.
From the Grammy award winning United States singer- Usher (Raymond Usher) of “My Boo” fame, “Coming to America” icon Eddy Murphy, to the popular Bongo Flava star Diamond Platnumz and our very own Kevin Mbuvi alias Bahati, the portrayal of the baby mama issues by personalities around the world seems to have changed this very concept from being an embarrassing vice to a trendy lifestyle.
Welcome to the world of daring “baby mamas” –who sometimes show up full-throat when their baby daddies die.
Other times they drag their men to the corridors of justice as was the case with Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi. His former domestic worker Winfred Wangui sued him three years ago for abandoning a 10-year-old daughter she claimed she bore for him.
According to the woman, the senator had only seen their child twice when she was two months old.
The same fate recently greeted Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka, although the children's court barred the media from covering the child upkeep case.
Singer Diamond’s three known baby-mamas are only paralleled to those of the raunchy Kevin Costner of “The Dances with Wolves” fame and Eddy Murphy who had about 10 children with five baby mamas by 2020.
Then there are those who leave children at their lovers’ workplaces like it happened to one Musa Mbuvi, an accountant in one of the high-end hotels in Nairobi.
In the court documents, Mbuvi accused his lover of taking her child to his workplace to cause him inconvenience and embarrassment, despite not being sure he was the father.
Sociologists say the trend is an indication of waning cultural norms.
Dr. Scholastic Adeli, a senior lecturer of counselling psychology at Moi University, attributes the rise of baby mamas to loosening of cultural norms, influx of civilisation that liberalises individual lifestyle choices and peer pressure.
“The typical African society didn’t have baby mamas because culture didn’t allow it. With polygamy where wives allowed their husbands to marry other wives, the baby mamas weren’t applicable,” Dr Adeli explains.
Before civilisation, women were culturally expected to stick to their marriage, however oppressive it turned out, unlike today when women can choose to be single mothers when the union turns soar, the senior lecturer says.
The trend is that you can have a child, source of income and live a happy life free of commitment and marital feuds.
“Another issue is that women are getting married late, going by the ‘standard marital age’. Somebody reaches 40, has no prospective suitors and has suffered disappointments here and there, and they think, ‘I just need to get a baby and move on’,” says Dr Adeli.
It’s now common for women to size up a man based on their brains, looks and celebrity or financial status, and target them to be what they call “sperm donor”.
Unlike in the olden days when pregnancies out of wedlock were mostly accidental owing to little knowledge or access to contraceptives, some of the modern-days are by choice.
Irresponsibility among the men is also a major contributor to why millions of children are no longer being raised in nuclear families; whether it’s infidelity, dead-beat fatherhood or casual attitudes with which the younger generation would treat marriage and relationships.
The rising number of teenagers taken advantage of and put in the family way basically form a large percentage of baby mamas raising their children in non-nuclear setups today.
Family therapists say a man may have as many women but fail to be close enough to any of them, because they may meet the financial aspects but fail to give emotional support or physical presence.
“Women exist as an integrated circuit. The mind, body, and soul are closely linked — so, hurt feelings affect the entire system. A wife whose spirit is crushed may suffer from fatigue and confusion,” says writer and therapist Deborah Reno.
She says men are compartmentalised and are able to fully function when one area of their lives is not working properly, hence leaving emotional burden to the women, who on the contrary, the writer likens to a strand of Christmas lights, where when one light goes out, they all go dark.
Sylva Nze, a Nigerian author, in his thoughts on the baby Mama syndrome, says the secrecy has ebbed away with time. He blames celebrities for normalising and popularising a “vice”.
“With more of our celebrities who have huge social influencer credentials getting caught up in this syndrome and advertising it proudly, it is no surprise that suddenly being a “baby mama” or “baby daddy” as the case may be, has become a cool thing for many of our impressionable youngsters and teenagers,” Mr Nze wrote.
It’s a generation that dreads long-term emotional and spiritual commitment of matrimony more than they do jail. They go by the mantra “marriage is overrated”. And with their love for social media, they unapologetically post their thoughts and beliefs about their unconventional relationships.
The baby mama syndrome is often characterised by child support court cases, dramatic funerals in the event of death of the man and cat fights with their lover’s wives. Sadly, children are often caught up in the crossfire.
According to Mr Robert Doyel, a retired judge in a family court in Florida, United States of America, the cases he handled portrayed a shocking entrenchment of the culture in his book, “The Baby Mama Syndrome”.
“It reveals a world you didn't know existed, a world of unconventional relationships, unrestrained sexual activity, unwed pregnancies, and violence described graphically by the people involved,” he surmised.
Over the years, he handled part or all of 15,000 to 20,000 restraining order (injunction for protection) cases as well as thousands of dependency, divorce, custody, and paternity cases.
He termed them as shocking, amusing but most of all concerning
Cases on child maintenance on the rise
At Milimani law courts alone, there were 3,317 maintenance and child support cases recorded in 2018 and 2019. And in 2021, there were 1022 cases by the close of July, an indicator of about 15 percent increase from the same period in 2019.
What the law says
In Kenya, the kinds of marriages in the Marriage Act, 2014, indicate that a Christian, Hindu or civil marriage is meant to be monogamous.
Under section 9 on subsisting marriages, the Act states; “…a married person shall not, while (a) in a monogamous marriage, contract another marriage; or (b) in a polygamous or potentially polygamous marriage, contract another marriage in any monogamous form.”
In June last year, the High Court in Milimani made a landmark ruling on divorce directing that both parents should equally share the burden of bringing up their children.
Justice Abida Ali Aroni based her ruling on section 24 of the Children Act that: “Where a child’s father and mother were married to each other at the time of his birth, they shall have parental responsibility for the child and neither the father nor the mother of the child shall have a superior right or claim against the other in the exercise of such parental responsibility.”
In the Act, parental responsibility means all the duties, rights, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and the child’s property in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child including adequate diet, shelter, clothing, medical care, education and guidance.
The judge was ruling on an appeal by a man challenging a Magistrate Court’s decision which had overburdened him with a financial task that required him to take care of his three-year-old son sired with his former wife.
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