As Kenyans continue to throng registration centres to get their Huduma Namba, single mothers are a worried lot.
This is because of the stringent legal requirements that insist on a father’s details when registering a child for any number of crucial documents.
From witness accounts, it is now emerging that when a father walks out of a relationship and leaves his partner and the children that they had behind, not only is he denying his offspring the chance to grow up with two parents, but he is also making it difficult for the mother to access critical services and documents for their children.
In Kenya, the ease of getting identification documents such as birth certificates, identity cards and passports relies heavily on the presence and participation of a father in his children’s lives.
Many women often find themselves not only with the burden of child rearing, but also facing discrimination when they seek important documents for their children.
Julie Lisa Okech had dreams of getting married to her child’s father, with whom she had a relationship for seven years before things went south.
“Our son had a birth certificate with his father’s name on it. In retrospect, I wish I had left that part blank or wrote my father’s name instead,” Ms Okech says.
They parted ways in 2016 before she embarked on getting a passport for their son.
She filled out the forms online through the E-citizen platform, paid the full amount and got all the relevant documents certified in readiness to present them to the immigration department.
She asked her former boyfriend a copy of his ID, which is a requirement for the process.
“When I asked for the ID, he said that he had lost it and would replace it soon. At that point we were not talking much so a lot of time went by before I could ask again.
"He finally gave me the copy of the document about a year later. When I went to check to see if I could finish the application process, I found that the time-frame had already lapsed. Imagine, Sh6,500 went just like that. I haven’t even thought about applying again,” Ms Okech says.
Ms Enricah Dulo, a family lawyer, says the biggest problem facing single mothers is lack of knowledge of the law and waiting until the last minute to seek legal redress.
She said that parents seek legal advice when they are just about to travel, which is not enough time to get the documents they need.
“It takes about four to six weeks to get legal guardianship, and it is even easier when the father is not in the child’s birth certificate,” she says.
Ms Dulo is confident that no foreign embassy can bar a mother from travelling with her child with these documents.
“Magistrates are human beings; they understand that sometimes men run away from their families,” Ms Dulo says.
She adds that mothers can seek guardianship orders to enable them to get passports for their children without involving the fathers and without necessarily getting full custody, which is a more rigorous legal process.
But it is not all doom and gloom for mothers who find themselves raising their children alone.
They have the option of leaving the fathers out of their children’s birth certificates and passports.
If the father was not around when a birth certificate was taken, then his details can be left out in that and future documents.
According to lawyer Miriam Wachira, in case an absentee father refuses to give his documents for registration of his child’s passport and his name already appears in the birth certificate, the mother can go to court and file an application to compel him to provide his documents.
“The only problem with that is that whenever she wants to travel out of the country with the child, she will have to go to the father for consent, which he might refuse to give,” Ms Wachira says.
She adds that another route that can be explored is for the mother to seek full custody of the child in the courts.
She would have to prove that the father is not available and that he has relinquished his role in the child’s life.
With the orders from the courts, the mother can then proceed to get a passport for the child.
Ms Okech admits that the thought of getting another birth certificate without the father’s name has come to mind, many times.
She continues to toy with the idea, if only it will make things easier for her and her child in the future.