Kenya to revive controversial child-support act

Kenya is planning to revive a law that will provide for the maintenance and custody of illegitimate children. The controversial law, called the Affiliation Act, was repealed in 1969 because of massive opposition from men. It mandated that any man who fathered a child to an unmarried woman or a married woman living apart from her husband must pay 200 Kenya shillings ($14) a month in child support until the child reached its 16th birthday.

When Kenyan Attorney-General Matthew Muli told a meeting of the National Council of Women that the act was being revived, the news was greeted by wild cheering and ululation. Kenyan men were generally not so pleased.

When the act was first introduced, a ''wife-beating'' clause triggered debate in parliament. Some members argued that wife beating is ''part of African culture.'' The law provided for a six-month custodial sentence for wife beaters. That clause is to be removed in the new legislation since wife-beating is now covered in the penal code.

The chairman of the National Council of Women, Prof. Wangari Mathai, said society should not punish innocent children, whether born out of or in wedlock.

''On the other hand, women should not be seen to be punishing the men who father their children - but someone must be responsible for the child brought forth,'' she said. Traditionally in African society, she added, ''Children belonged to the family, not to the woman alone, and it is our desire to maintain this tradition to avoid the creation of a society in which children have no roots.''

With the breakup of tribal societies and the massive influx of men into urban areas looking for work, the rate of illegitimacy appears to be growing.

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