The pain of raising children as a single Muslim mum

Sisters in Islam says there has been a big increase in child maintenance complaints. (Freepik pic)

PETALING JAYA: For Aisyah (not her real name), life seemed good when she married her long-time boyfriend in 2013 but things took a turn after they had a child, leading to months of physical, mental and emotional abuse in the household.

Now a single mother after their divorce in 2017, Aisyah told FMT she has been struggling to raise her child on her own, due to inconsistent monthly alimony payments (nafkah) from her former husband.

She is waiting to bring her case to the shariah court.

“He gave nafkah of RM200 to RM300, but only when he felt like it. Last year, he did not pay for four months,” Aisyah said.

She said it was well below what was needed to cover their child’s daycare fees, diapers, milk formula, food and clothes, all of which came to about RM1,600 a month.

According to Aisyah, her former husband recently started work at an oil and gas company and now earned a stable income.

But, she said, he still refused to provide more money despite her many appeals.

“I am filing for child support soon, because this is not something I can sustain for a long time. Being a single mum, you have bills to pay in addition to having to take care of a child,” she said.

Aisyah lamented that bringing the case to the shariah court was an expensive and tedious process, with her having to hire a lawyer, fill out papers, serve the documents and wait for the trial.

“I wish it was easier for women in my situation, where we don’t have to wait for the mothers to initiate this process,” she said.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) communications officer Aleza Othman said child maintenance complaints were one of the most alarming issues, with SIS seeing an increase in non-payment of alimony from 5% in 2016 to 20% in 2018.

She said fathers chose not to pay alimony for various reasons, such as financial difficulties, not being aware of the repercussions of not providing child maintenance or feeling that all responsibilities fell on the former wife after divorce.

In its annual Telenesia statistics report, SIS said it had received 307 cases concerning children in 2019, including 95 on child maintenance and 33 on arrears of child maintenance.

Federal child support agency mooted

Aleza urged the government to set up a federal child support agency to ensure children of all religions received their maintenance support on time, without further “procedural or bureaucratic fuss” that mothers had to go through under the present systems.

“We would also like to see a system where there is a compulsory deduction from the fathers’ bank accounts for them to provide child maintenance,” she said.

Meanwhile, activist Hajjar Nurhayu Zainal of Jaringan Rakan Ibu Tunggal said the policy of sentencing fathers who failed to provide nafkah to jail only seemed to have been effective against working class or unemployed men.

Hajjar Nurhayu Zainal

“There are many cases involving men who are in higher income brackets and who refuse to pay alimony, but didn’t go to jail because they could afford proper legal representation,” she said, in reference to fathers that were brought to court.

Hajjar said the government should set up a body to investigate and evaluate the income of divorced men, to ensure an appropriate amount was deducted straight from their salary.

She also called for policies that empowered single mothers, such as housing rights, free access to higher level education or skills training programmes.