<%-- Page Title--%> Perspective <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 130 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

November 14, 2003

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Broken Homes Break Hearts

Ekram Kabir

Sharmin, even on the eve of her fifth birthday, doesn't know who her father is. She calls a man Baba whom her mom, a single mother for four years now, is planning to marry. Sharmin's mother, working in an international organisation, didn't say anything to her child about her biological father.

“Because, when I get married again, I want my daughter to know my second husband as her father. Yes, I know, one day, she will find out who her father is. Then she will probably hate me; but right now I want to save my child from the trauma of going through a troubled childhood.”
There are many like Sharmin's mother who, after their separation or divorce from their husbands, try to keep the child away from the father. “This attitude is not at all correct,” says Dr Shahibbul Abrar, working for street children. “Keeping children away from the father is unthinkable in western countries, where they have visiting rights and the father can meet his children at a cordially-decided time. Even after the divorce, in those countries, an ex-husband and an ex-wife can sit together at a place in a reasonably friendly environment,” he explains. But in Bangladesh, he laments, the parents become enemies after divorce.

“When a Bangladeshi woman divorces her husband, it naturally hurts the husband's ego; he then takes his revenge trying to turn the children against their mother,” explains Irfan Hossain, a marriage lawyer in Dhaka. “Similar things happen from the mother's side; she also tries to turn the kids against their father,” he says, adding that “in the process, the children become too confused to believe any one of them. And that affects them badly, and they lose trust in the entire society.”

But for 13-year-old Milon, a porter at Gulshan Market, things are different. His father left them when Milon was only two “Abba never came back; Ma(mother) said he deserted us because he could not afford the expenses of running a family. That was really mean of him,” he says, with a sad look in his eyes.

Milon is one of the sensible children who works and supports his mother, who never married again. But most children of low-income families lose their sense of guidance after their parents' separation; they end up in the street.

The break up of families is never expected by children. “Divorce” is an ugly word for them. In most cases they are too young to understand what that means. Still divorces take place, and in the process, the children suffer. Their parents becoming enemies is the last thing the children want to see. Families are the bedrock of a society. When families fall apart, the society falls into social and cultural decline. Just a few decades ago, most children in Bangladesh grew up in two-parent families. Today, the number of children coming from broken homes is increasing. Divorce and other lifestyle choices are seen to alter the Bangladeshi family and thus gradually changing the social landscape.

According to a UN Population Journal study, the main reasons for disintegration of families in rural Bangladesh are the age gap between husband and wife, dowry and poverty. But, the study says, in the urban areas, most of the time, it is the lack of understanding between husband and wife.

“Due to termination of a marriage, many negative things happen in a child's life. Mother and child often have to move homes in connection with a separation,” says Shahin Ara Begum, the Research and Information Officer of Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF). “This means that the children often do not just experience an altered family life, but also a change of school. They lose old friends and schoolmates and have to establish new friendships, which the children themselves express as being a problem”, she adds.

Dr Abrar, too, thinks, “Children and young people from separated or unhappy families are, as their mothers often socially isolated from friends and schoolmates; everybody tends to look down upon them.”

Dr Abrar's observation is evident from an expert study carried out by Sweden-based Lancet Medical Journal published in January 2003. It says, children growing up in single-parent families are twice as likely as their counterparts to develop serious psychological illnesses and addictions later in life.

When families disintegrate, the study says, children often end up with intellectual, physical and emotional scars that persist for life. It further says, “We talk about the drug crisis, the education crisis and the problem of juvenile crime. But all these ills trace back predominantly to one source: broken and unhappy families.”

Broken homes and a bunch of depressed children are not only the reason for so many social problems. They are also the reason for the incumbent economic difficulties a country may face as a culture. The moral foundation of a society erodes as children learn the savage values of the street rather than the civilised values of culture.

According to a single mother, a school teacher, another change is the setting of limits for children's' behaviour by the parents. The children, after the divorce, are given a more liberal framework than previously. Parents do not have the mental and physical energy to set limits for the children's behaviour and because they believe that the children need to be fussed over because of the divorce. This expansion, or the lack of setting limits creates problems later on when the adults in the child's life attempt to set limits again.

Homes today in Bangladesh are being broken more frequently, hurting the families, especially the children. When a divorce takes place, the children feel disillusioned, betrayed or rejected by one or both of their parents. They lose trust in relationships in general. They even lose self-esteem and may worry about being loved.
In these times, says Dr Abrar, parents should give their children time to discuss their feelings. They can suggest positive ways to handle feelings. If children have difficulty in talking with their parents, encourage them to confide in another trusted adult such as a relative, family friend and teacher. “They must be given more attention than other children.”

-- PIB-UNICEF Feature



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