Could parents in the UK lose custody of children or be thrown in jail if the government determines that the parent does not love their children enough? This has happened to one father, who has not only lost custody of his daughter but the judge ordered the child will be adopted, and sent to live in the US. And if a controversial new law called “The Cinderella Law” is passed, parents will be subject to the governmental regulation of love and emotion, and if found lacking, parents could be criminally charged with abuse and face up to 10 years in prison; and their children would likely become wards of the state.
FATHER LOSES CUSTODY BECAUSE LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH
Feb 2014:An immigrant father (not named) from Cameroon, West Africa lost custody of his 7-year old daughter in the Family Division of London and Birmingham because the family court judge felt the father’s “love is not enough”. The child will be adopted by maternal relatives living in the US. Justice Keehan, who heard the case, is quoted as saying, “I do not doubt that in his own way he deeply loves [his daughter]. Most importantly, there is the extent to which this father can meet the emotional needs of this child. He may love her, as he did frequently say he loves her. Sadly, in life that is not enough.”
Justice Keehan, a High Court judge in the family division of London and Birmingham, heard the case of an immigrant father from Cameroon who had a daughter with woman (not named) who recently died. After the relationship ended, the mother retained primary custody of the daughter. The father met another woman, and had a child with her. The father’s second child was born 10 months after his ex partner’s death. When the woman died, the father sought full custody of his daughter so she could live in Manchester with his new family. In a controversial ruling, Justice Keehan denied the father’s petition and ordered the daughter to be adopted by maternal relatives in the US, a plan endorsed by social workers overseeing the case.
This means the loving biological father will be removed from his own daughter’s life–and the child will grow up without a father or any connection to her paternal side of the family, or her cultural identity. The daughter will also lose any connection to her mother, and the life she established. This child will be raised as American, her past erased, and she will be forced to assume a new identity that has nothing to do with her true family of origin and its customs, traditions, spiritual practices. That Justice Keehan feels this is in the best interest of this child, and that she needs to be removed from all influences of her father, and there should be no remedy for reunification or to address any issues of concern, not only suggests the logic of the family division is deeply flawed, but is making a decision based on something other than law, fact and the welfare of this child.
THE PROPOSED CINDERELLA LAW
In March 2014, the “Cinderella Law” was proposed in the UK. The “Cinderella Law” will jail parents for up to 10 years for “failing to show love to their children”, under a newly proposed “emotional cruelty” law. Under the changes to the law, emotional abuse will be classified as a criminal offense, similar to physical or sexual abuse. Under the “Cinderella Law” it is a crime to intentionally cause harm to a child’s “intellectual, emotional, social or behavioral development”.
Conservative MP Robert Buckland, is the principal Parliamentary campaigner behind the Cinderella law. The law is named for the fairytale “Cinderella” and references that the Wicked Stepmother got away with tormenting Cinderella, and never was punished. Then again, what is to say Prince Charming really loved Cinderella? If Cinderella did not have the magic wand to transform her tattered dress into a beautiful ball gown, would the Prince have paid her any attention? And would love-starved Cinderella be happy being shuttled to another home, with rules and expectations placed on her, and little to no room to explore her life and desires? That is why fairy tales are fantasy—they were never meant to be applied to the real world as we know it!
Critics to the Cinderella Law say it gives the government too much power into the private life of families. Existing abuse and neglect laws often do consider emotional abuse in sentencing, there is already a protection for children within the law. However, the Cinderella Law goes further than existing laws. Critics are concerned that the Cinderella Law, will cause innocent parents to be falsely charged of criminal abuse for common occurrences that happen when parenting, and normally are not considered abuse. This could potentially include things like a parent refusing vaccinate a child or the government not approving your method of discipline or the angry allegations of a rebellious teen who shouts things like “You don’t love me anymore!” to parent who is setting boundaries/enforcing rules. The Cinderella Law gives the government the power to police parenting practices, and to determine what “love” is, effectively voiding the rights of parents.
The “Cinderella Law”, part of the “Serious Crimes Bill”, was included in the Queen’s speech in June to outline proposed laws. The Queen’s speech was 10 minutes long, she wore a crown decked out in jewels , a huge diamond necklace and fur cloak, sat on a golden throne and read in from a notebook, rarely raising her eyes. The speech outlined 11 new proposed laws. As a mother herself, I seriously hope the Queen will reconsider passing the “Cinderella” law.
Sources: “A Valuable Cinderella Law…or more state meddling?” by Philip Johnston. The Telegraph, 03/31/2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/familyadvice/10734554/A-valuable-Cinderella-Law…-or-more-state-meddling.html
Cameroon Language, Customs, Culture & Etiquette: http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/cameroon.html
Countries and their Cultures, Cameroon: http://www.everyculture.com/Bo-Co/Cameroon.html
“Father Told Love is Not Enough in Custody Battle” by Brain Farmer. Irish Examiner, 2/5/2014: http://www.irishexaminer.com/world/father-told-love-is-not-enough-in-custody-battle-257639.html
“High Court Rejects Father’s Custody Bid” by Marilyn Stowe. Stowe Family Law, 2/6/2014: http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2014/02/06/high-court-rejects-fathers-custody-bid/
“The Cinderella Law: Emotional Correctness Gone Mad” by Frank Furedi. The Independent, 04/02/2014: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-cinderella-law-emotional-correctness-gone-mad-9231233.html
The Queen’s Speech to the Parliament 2014, in full. The Telegraph. 06/04/2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/queen-elizabeth-II/10875028/Queens-Speech-to-Parliament-2014-in-full.html
“Welsh MP’s child cruelty law in the Queen’s speech” by BBC News Wales. 06/04/2014: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-27696019
MORE ON THE FATHER FROM CAMEROON WHO LOST CUSTODY BECAUSE THE JUDGE DETERMINED “LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH”
** The father is from Cameroon, West Africa, and living in Manchester on a 6-month family visa. The man was once deported in 2006 but returned to the UK in 2009. The father is said to have lied to social workers about his personal situation, which would be understandable given his history or if he did not have proper legal advise. Immigration issues were not cited as a reason for loss of custody in published reports about this case.
**The father is raising another child, and has established a home with his new partner, which should demonstrate his ability to parent and care for his older daughter. In addition, family relationships–including that with siblings—are important in determining the best interest, and custody arrangements for a child. If this father can provide adequate care for and love one child–then why not another?
Justice Keehan seems to be punishing this father for having another child, which suggests bias. Justice Keehan says, “This child needs to have her emotional needs recognised and met. She needs to be the centre of attention so that her needs are not missed.I regret to find that the father does not begin to evince any understanding of what those needs are nor does he evince any ability to meet them.”
It is normal for a family to have more than one child, and be able to care for all of their children. In Cameroon, children are highly valued; large families are common, with an average of 10 or more children born to a family. From the time of birth, an infant is greeted with abundant love, attention and visits from family and community members. Children are taught by modeling adults, and expected to help care for elders or help care for young siblings. Family is central to social life and individual well-being, extended family are close knit groups. Making one child “the center of attention” may be what Justice Keehan recommends but the law protects the parent’s ability to determine the best way to raise their children, and it is supposed to take into account cultural practices when making child custody rulings.
** There are no reports that father has ever abused or mistreated any of his children. In fact, Mr. Justice Keehan admits this man openly demonstrates love for his daughter, “I do not doubt that in his own way he deeply loves [his daughter]. Most importantly, there is the extent to which this father can meet the emotional needs of this child. He may love her, as he did frequently say he loves her. Sadly, in life that is not enough.”
The Court has an obligation to meet the cultural needs of its litigants including getting an interpreter if necessary, and to take into account cultural practices and beliefs when making a custody determination. The Court also has to consider the child’s unique relationship to her family of origin and its culture. Justice Keehan’s comments suggest bias, predjudice, or a lack of cultural understanding needed to make a fair ruling.
For example: Mr. Justice Keehan said, about his ruling, that the father had given a “heartless” answer to one question. “When I heard him reply in answer to the fact that [the girl] has been through a lot in her short life, I thought it heartless on the part of the father to reply ‘me, too’.”
Clearly, Mr. Justice Keehan is making a ruling based on his own experience and assumptions, not considering the cultural differences or context in which this father has made this remark. In Cameroon, traditional roles for men include that the father is the financial provider of the family, the one who works to support the family and meet their material needs. The mother is the nurturer, who raises children, and supports the father in his work. For the father to say he has been through a lot is not “heartless” it is an acknowledgement that he feels his daughter’s pain because he has also suffered, and that he is willing to do what it takes to provide for her, and give her a better life—as a man and father in Cameroon is expected to do. If the father is not sentimental or showing the expected emotion, that should be understood in the context of his culture—those kinds of demonstrations were common to the female members of the family, it does not make the father any less important, or indicate that he does not care.
And is this one remark enough to justify loss of custody? Again, it causes one to seriously question where Justice Keehan is coming from, especially since the law does not support unsubstantiated concerns but is designed to protect, and defend the right of parents and their right to raise their children in their own customs and culture, and how they see fit.
Parents do have rights over their children, and only in extreme cases with a high degree of evidence or documentation of imminent harm or risk to a child, is a parent’s rights to that child restricted or terminated. According to the Children Act 1989, a ‘welfare checklist’ of issues is to be considered when determining a child’s welfare and custody. It is up to the judge to interpret the law, and determine the best interest of the child—since the judge is the absolute authority, they are rarely punished or held accountable when their bias, misunderstandings, mistakes or failures hurt children and families.
A Few Interesting Facts About Cameroon:
Cameroon is a diverse country made up of 250 ethnic groups that form 5 regional/cultural groups. The capitol city is Yaounde.
The official languages of Cameroon are French and English, as Cameroon was a colony of both England and France in the past (1916-1960). There are also 240 local languages. Kamtok, or Pidgin English, is also spoken.
Ndole is the national dish of Cameroon; it is made with a stew of nuts, a bitter leaves called ndoleh, and meat (fish, beef, shrimp, prawns). Ndole is often served with rice, plantains or cassava.
The social system of Cameroon is based on family relationships. Family obligations guide cultural, religious and social practices. It is common for siblings to care for infants and the elderly in the family. Families employ other family members in their businesses. When you greet someone, you ask about their family. And family success is prized over individual merit.
Childbearing is highly valued in Cameroon, a typical family has 10 or more children. Children are given a great deal of care and attention, infants usually sleep with their mother and as soon as they can hold their head up, siblings help care for the infant. Calling on extended family to help, is also common.