Fathers fight for their rights

A SA branch of the British founded Fathers-4-Justice (F4J), a civil rights organisation campaigning for children’s rights to see both parents and grandparents after a divorce, has been formed. Dr Steven Pretorius the founder of F4J in SA, said the organisation’s main goal was to raise awareness of the plight of many parents – mainly fathers who had restricted or no access to their children

Fathers fight for their rights

By Zelda Venter

They have been fighting ongoing legal battles to have access to their children and they now feel enough is enough.

These fathers have launched a local branch of Fathers-4-Justice (F4J), a civil rights organisation campaigning for children’s rights to see both parents and grandparents after a divorce.

F4J was launched eight years ago in the United Kingdom.

Dr Steven Pretorius, the founder of F4J in South Africa, said the organisation’s main goal was to raise awareness of the plight of many parents -­ mainly fathers who had restricted or no access to their children.

The organisation will also assist those having problems with maintenance and those going through difficult divorces.

“Although we are called Fathers-4-Justice, this is not only about fathers who are being treated unfairly. It is mainly about the child’s rights,” Pretorius said.

F4J has a lawyer, a former criminal advocate, a social worker and a psychologist on its team.

They will all act in an advisory capacity.

Pretorius and co-founder Dr Louis Botha said they had been embroiled in ongoing legal battles for access to their children.

‘Many family advocates are openly hostile towards fathers’

“We are fighting for our children and we would like to do it for others. If there is a child out there getting a bad deal, we want to help,” Botha said.

There are many fathers who have had to endure false accusations from their former spouses in a bid to keep them away from their children.

They have been subjected to arrests for “child abuse” and they had to spend time in jail until their names were cleared.

Pretorius and Botha said women often obtained protection orders against their former husbands out of spite.

One husband said he had spent nearly R500 000 during the past 18 months in a bid to clear his name and to see his children.

And the battle is not over.

Pretorius said during his legal struggle he came face-to-face with South Africa’s “inefficient legal system, which allows vindictive mothers to get away with sick behaviour.”

He said he had been waiting in vain for more than 10 months for the family advocate to investigate whether he is a suitable father to have access to his child.

“Even she ignores my desperate pleas,” Pretorius said.

Apart from paying for lawyers and advocates, Pretorius said he also had to see four psychologists.

He said “money-hungry lawyers take even the most ridiculous dispute to court just as long as they can continue writing fees.

“None of them even knows the name of our daughter,” he said.

Pretorius, a medical doctor, has given up his practice to be involved in F4J in South Africa to fight for the rights of children caught up in their parents’ divorce.

“Through F4J I have seen the ugly side of family law: mothers repeatedly obtaining protection orders for trumped up charges of abuse that never took place, fathers who have spent nights in jail purely for insisting on seeing their children, and mothers who have maintenance increased while refusing to obey contact orders.

“Many family advocates are also openly hostile and biased towards fathers,” Pretorius said.

He said one of the South African chapter of F4J’s main goals would be to try to have unfair, punitive laws revisited.

In 1998, the Child Care Act was reviewed by judges, who recommended some changes.

This included shared parenting after divorce.

These recommendations have largely been ignored in the drafting of the changes to the Children’s Bill, which is presently before Parliament.

“We are hoping to lobby a change in the law for the benefit of our children,” Pretorius said.

He said there were fathers who did not meet their obligations after a divorce, and that F4J rejected these fathers.

“But we are desperate to remain good fathers and see our children grow up and be happy.”

F4J is a non-profit organisation which will eventually generate funds from membership fees.

At this stage, membership is still free. For more information, call Pretorius at 012 809 1686 or 083 790 0911.

  • This article was originally published on page 8 of The Pretoria News on June 14, 2005

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