What you need to know:
Illogical money demands from some baby mamas have sent many men into financial ruin and depression, making some fathers to resent their children as their offspring accuse them of abandonment
Baby Mama: My question is unatuma pesa ya shule?
Baby Daddy: After sending you Sh28,000 yesterday you blocked me saying that iyo ni pesa ya nyanya!
Baby Mama: Mwanaume mzima kazi ni (expletives). Huwezi lisha familia. Unataka hizo pesa nikurudishie?
Baby Daddy: Why are you always bitter with me?
Baby Mama: Sibishani na wewe. Kama hutumi pesa niambie… nawaleta watoto wako hapo tuone nani atasuffer. I told you ukiona unanisaidia pesa zako come pick your kids. Sasa hutaongea?
Baby Daddy: Ungoje next week nikipata nawatumia.
Baby Mama: Ebu tuma pesa ya sapa saa hii.
Baby Daddy: Sawa.
Baby Mama: Kwani hutumi????? Ama unangojea firimbi?
Baby Daddy: Pole. Place niko hakuna M-Pesa. Ngojea kidogo tu.
Baby Mama: Nautume za kutoa.
Baby Daddy: Ni sawa.
These were the contents of a leaked and now viral conversation between a co-parenting pair that was shared across social media platforms a few weeks ago. The story sparked conversation and was even mimicked in a Tik-Tok video.
When Liam Mwangi shared the WhatsApp screenshots on his Facebook timeline, he was conflicted.
“A lot of emotions swelled up within me. I pitied the man, but I was also angry at his helplessness,” he says. He was also enraged because he often has similar exchanges with his baby mama.
His baby mama, he says, has worn him down with ridiculous financial demands in the name of child maintenance. “I have three kids with my baby mama; two daughters aged 12 and 10, and a boy aged 5,” says Mwangi who is 40.
When he fails to pay their upkeep on time, Mwangi is subjected to torrents of abuse and threats. “There is a time she threatened that she would drop the kids, dirty and in torn clothes, at my workplace if I refused to send Sh8,000 urgently,” he says. His baby mama clothes her every financial demand with child maintenance. “No money is ever enough. But if she asks, I just try to find ways to pay up in order to keep the peace,” he says.
He is aware that only a portion of the money helps his children.
Mwangi is one among thousands of men today who are languishing under the yoke of child maintenance demands, most of them being beyond logic.
The unrealistic financial demands from some baby mamas have sent many men into throes of personal financial ruin and depression. “I live in Pipeline Nairobi and I earn Sh30,000. I have a wife and two kids,” says Ian Mutwiri. “I have a younger sister who is in college in Thika who depends on me for upkeep. My mother in the village is ailing and I have to send money for her hospital clinics every two weeks. On top of this, I have been taken to court by my baby mama because I have reduced upkeep from Sh10,000 to Sh5,000 until my finances improve,” Mutwiri shares.
Mutwiri confesses to having raked debts to keep his life together. “I don’t know if I will ever recover. I feel like I am in a pit that keeps getting deeper,” he says. He explains that he has tried to reason out his financial position with his baby mama in vain.
“She knows my family and the situation that I am in, but she says that it is none of her business; that I should have thought of that when I made her pregnant,” he says, adding that he has considered being a deadbeat altogether.
“There are many men who don’t pay up and their lives are more normal. Yet, I still want to be there for my children,” he says.
According to Article 53 of the Constitution, children have a right to parental care and protection which includes equal responsibility of the mother and the father regardless of their marital status. Nonetheless, when maintenance is being set, this law is interpreted together with Section 4 (3) of the Children’s Act of 2001 which prioritizes the child’s best interests. “Any act shall be considered to be in the interest of the child if it is calculated to firstly safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of the child and is aimed at securing these interests,” the law states.
Given the history of men being breadwinners, the societal verdict is that a man should take the lion’s share of the bills, despite his circumstance. This has seen a lot of unrealistic demands made on the man by their baby mamas.
Often, the child(ren) are the ones who suffer as fathers pushed to the wall resent their demanding offspring, and children accuse dads who stay away of abandonment.
This is the story of Brian Kipkirui. He says, that his baby mama has put a wedge between him and his son because he is not able to shoulder hefty bills.
“I have a 12-year-old son who now hates me as his mother has made him believe I am a deadbeat. She prevents the boy from seeing me and then tells him I am disinterested,” he says.
Kipkirui has been forced to sneak into the boy’s school just to see him. According to sociologist Nathan Gachoka, this is a common tactic that many baby mamas deploy to ensure there is little to no relationship between the baby daddy and the child.
“If baby mama is still unmarried, the negative talk is meant to drive a wedge between the man and the child and where she’s married, to redirect the child’s focus and affection to the stepfather,” says Gachoka.
Drawing the line between abandonment and the inability to meet unrealistic expectations set, is often a thin line for many men.
It’s this thin line, that cunning baby mamas exploit.
Gachoka explains that in such a scenario, the relationship between the co-parenting couple and the child is likely to be complicated. “The likelihood of a toxic relationship is high. The man and the baby mama already have a bad relationship that gets compounded by procedures such as child upkeep petitions, father-child relationship, and the father’s financial wherewithal,” he says.
Men get reprieve from court
Some men are fighting against the harsh push. Some have succeeded.
A recent case was delivered last month (April 2022), where a ruling was made that it is wrong for the man to be burdened with financial responsibilities that are not within his reach or that leave him struggling beyond reason.
“Whereas children are entitled to their rights, the same should be enjoyed within the means of their parents, otherwise parents may end up with high blood pressure and other related ailments at the altar of the rights of a child,” Justice John Onyiego of the Family Division of the High Court in Mombasa ruled.
The ruling was the conclusion of a case in which a woman had petitioned the court to punish her former husband who was unable to meet her child maintenance demands. The court heard that the man no longer had enough money to keep the children at an expensive school. However, he was ready to enroll the children at a more affordable school. This was blocked by the woman who then sued him in 2021. She sought more than Sh1 million from him in school fees balance and related expenses.
The court, however, ruled in favour of the man. “Since the man is carrying the entire family’s financial obligations alone, he cannot be pushed too hard to educate all the children at high-cost school beyond his means,” Justice Onyiego ruled. “There is no sufficient ground to punish him simply because he cannot afford to educate his children at the high-cost school.” The court directed that if the woman was insistent on keeping the child at the expensive school, she was at liberty to foot the balance.
This was a precedent ruling considering the rise of co-parenting among modern parents. According to a 2012 pan- African study that was conducted by two Canadian sociologists, Kenya currently has one of the highest numbers of children born out of wedlock on the continent. The survey says that a Kenyan woman has a 59.5 percent chance of being a single mother by the age of 45 either through pre-marital birth or dissolution of a union. The research also established that about 30 percent of women in Kenya give birth before they are married.
This is compounded by the rising number of divorces. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of legally married people who filed petitions to end their marriages at the Milimani Commercial Court’s civil registry in Nairobi rose from 909 to 1,108. “The ripple effect is increased co-parenting arrangements, fights, and maintenance court cases,” says Gachoka.
But many of the men who are informally or formally on child maintenance are not aware that they can seek redress in a court of law when they are no longer able to meet their financial obligations.
Lack of information
Jeremy Kirui doesn’t know this. He was put on child maintenance two years ago by his ex-wife. At the time, the 38-year-old worked for a private hospital in Nakuru as an assistant accounting officer with a monthly gross salary of Sh70,000. “A court order was presented to my employer stating that Sh15,000 be automatically deducted from my salary every month. This left me with a net salary of Sh55,000,” he says.
In October 2021, he lost his job. However, his baby mama did not give him a break. “When I failed to remit money, she sent me expletives, accused me of wanton sexual promiscuity, and threatened to petition the court to have me jailed for failing to pay up,” he says. During the December festive season, he was not allowed to see his son simply because he had maintenance arrears. “In January, I had to take a Sh45,000 loan from friends to pay the arrears in order to see my son.”
His son is four and was scheduled to join kindergarten this month. However, he is still at home because Jeremy and his baby mama have been stuck in a huge disagreement over the type of school he should be enrolled in. “I got a County Government job in February 2022. My starting salary scale is Sh28,000. I have been surviving on Sh13,000 after sending her upkeep. But she wants the upkeep and an extra Sh20,000 for an upmarket kindergarten,” he says. Jeremy says that these demands keep coming, even though his baby mama is employed. “She earns more than what I earn currently. Why can’t she chip in?” he wonders.
Jeremy says that he doesn’t know what to do. “I feel like I am losing my mind,” he says. When Saturday Magazine asked him if he has considered returning to court, his answer betrays what many other men appear to assume. “There is no need. Courts always side with the mother,” he shrugs.
Jeremy says that the incessant financial demands, conflicts, denials to bond with his child, and the verbal abuses he gets from his baby mama have made him resent his son.
“There are times when I just wonder if it is worth it at all. My own child has taken away all my happiness, as innocent as he is,” says Jeremy.
I hate my child
Jeremy is not the only baby daddy with mixed feelings for his child. There are some men who have been so agonised that they no longer feel parental love for the children they are providing for. Police officer Danson Musyimi confesses that he hates the child he had with his ex because of the mess and drama his baby mama has put him through.
“I have a 10-year-old daughter and I have been paying Sh8,000 in child maintenance every month. But I want nothing to do with her,” he says. Ever since his ex-wife took him to court five years ago, Danson has seen his daughter less than ten times. “I last saw her two years ago. I don’t hate her, and I don’t love her. I see the money I am deducted for maintenance as a form of loan repayment that I will finish paying off in eight years when she turns 18,” says the 39-year-old.
Danson says that his baby mama has been using their child as a weapon to disrupt his new marriage. According to him, his baby mama took him to court as a form of punishment. “I have been supporting her since day one. She claimed that if I could support my wife’s children, then I could as well share the other half with her,” he says.
This issue was recently highlighted by prominent businesswoman Sarah Kabu of Bonfire Adventures. According to Sarah, her husband’s baby mamas have been a source of drama and trouble in her marriage. “(My husband) had a relationship with someone and they had a daughter. He also had another relationship with someone else and they had a son. I was aware of all this when we got married,” she said during her recent highly publicised marital drama scenes.
“Since publicly gifting our children property, the baby mamas have been very aggressive. I am also human and it becomes stressful when you are trying to pool resources together then it goes out to support others,” she voiced.
According to sociologist Gachoka, fear of negative perceptions keeps many men silent.
Push comes to shove
“Men who abdicate their parental responsibilities have never been held in good regard. A man who chooses not to provide for his child is shamed and seen as a failure and a disgrace to humanity. This is what many men want to avoid,” he says.
But with modern legal progress and balanced arbitration, it is possible for men who feel aggrieved to seek legal redress in court.
According to Caroline Maina, an Advocate of the High Court and the managing partner in charge of Corporate and Commercial practice at CMK Associates, child maintenance should revolve around the basic needs of the child. These are food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, and schooling. When a decision on how much the man should pay in child support, it is these needs that are tabulated and a total figure is mounted. Where the man feels that the tabulations on these needs are overly exaggerated to the detriment of his financial and emotional wellbeing, he may choose to file a contest in court where a more reasonable figure can be reallocated.
Harriet Onyiego, an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, and a Member, Young Lawyers Committee, East Africa Law Society, says that the man can do this by way of an affidavit showing his capacity or incapacity in providing for them.
“If you have been asked to pay a total of Sh100,000 and your salary is Sh120,000, you can contest by illustrating how the balance of Sh20,000 will not meet your personal obligations,” Harriet says.
Apart from petitioning for fairer upkeep dues, the High Court also allows men to ask for custody where the welfare of the child is not guaranteed under the mother. This is irrespective of the child’s age.