By Prosper Dembedza
Lawyers have welcomed last week’s ruling by High Court Judge Justice Happias Zhou which gave parents of children born out of wedlock joint custody, saying it was in line with the country’s Constitution.
The landmark judgment ended a long-drawn custody dispute pitting businessman Mr Frank Buyanga and his ex-girlfriend, Ms Chantelle Muteswa. Under common law, the father could be made to pay child maintenance, but the mother had sole parental powers.
With such exclusive powers, mothers could exclude fathers from the lives of their children and single-handedly decide issues concerning the children’s welfare. Justice Zhou said the common law provision was discriminative.
Harare lawyer Mr Musindo Hungwe said the ruling aptly captures the constitutional dispensation which guarantees equality.
“The ruling in my view debunks the long held perception that motherhood is synonymous to the best interest of a child and it properly places emphasis on the interest of the child as being paramount to any discourse pertaining to matters to do with children as opposed to the whims and caprices of the parents who often-times allow vindictiveness and emotions to play a central role and push to the back banner the interest of the children which at times must remain paramount,” he said.
Mr Admire Rubaya from Rubaya and Chatambudza Legal Practitioners said the ruling is compliant with the Constitution.
“The ruling means all children will be treated the same notwithstanding the marital status of the parents.
“Now all the children have rights to parental care meaning that all fathers (whether married or not) can ask for joint custody and joint guardianship,” he said.
Mr Carlton Mupungani, a lawyer from Manase and Manase Legal Practitioners said the ruling is in line with the country’s Constitution.
“The ruling is truly landmark as it furthers the application for the rights to equality. This progressive application of the application of the Constitution should be applauded by all,” he said.
Tafadzwa Hungwe from Samukange and Hungwe Legal Practitioners said the ruling reflects modern day society where discrimination against individuals based on their gender when it comes to parental rights is no longer justified.
“A father has a natural obligation to maintain his offspring and equally like an obligation it should invite a natural right to custody and access to those that he is obliged to maintain,” he said. The Herald