Particularly hard hit are mothers whose partners have been abusive towards them. Photo: Getty
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Mothers4Justice: why we need a single mothers’ pressure group

Thanks to the success of the fathers’ campaigns, public policy is now biased against responsible mothers.

When the childcare expert Penelope Leach wrote recently that separated parents who agreed on their young children having regular sleepovers with the non-resident parent were doing harm there was an immediate response from Families Need Fathers and Fathers4Justice.

From mothers there was virtually no reaction. There is a simple reason for this omission: single mothers are just too busy, looking after their children and trying to earn money to keep them, to set up a pressure group on the lines the separated fathers have done.

Yet there is an overwhelming need for such a group because, thanks to the success of the fathers’ pressure groups, public policy is now biased against responsible mothers. Particularly hard hit are mothers whose partners have been abusive towards them. Such mothers are often ordered by the Family Court to hand over their children on alternate weekends to fathers who they know are likely to harm the children emotionally if not physically, because such men are more concerned with their own power and control than their children’s welfare.

The Family Court of England and Wales and its associated quango – CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Service) have become mesmerised by the idea that it is a good thing for children to divide their time between both parents, whatever the non-resident parents’ behaviour. In so doing they are reflecting the view of the Ministry of Justice – a department that has been over-influenced by Families Need Fathers and Fathers4Justice.

The Court and CAFCASS are so intent on ensuring children divide their time between both parents that things a rational person would consider a risk to children’s welfare are ignored by them, or regarded as irrelevant and not child-related. A father may have been convicted of a sexual offence, but if it was some time ago and not against a child it could be dismissed as historic.

A father may use all manner of dodges to evade providing financial support for his children, but the court is unlikely to take his parental responsibility away from him. The likelihood that a man who has abused his partner by controlling behavior is likely to use access to their children to try to continue that control is rarely considered.

A man may have hidden a lengthy criminal past from his partner for years, but that deception and dishonesty is likely to be dismissed as not relevant when the matter of contact with children is considered. Indeed honesty is so undervalued in the Family Court system that lying by parents is often considered the norm by CAFCASS’s staff and by family lawyers.

Perjury is rife in the Family Court, but it is usually ignored or explained away as being merely the behaviour of a parent intent on seeing their child. Thus the dishonest parent gets away with dishonesty and the honest parent is not believed.

As a result at weekends children, up and down the land, protest that they do not want to spend the weekend with their fathers, but are told by worried mothers that there is a court order saying they must do so. When they see the misery such orders are placing on their children some mothers become so desperate they defy the court and fail to hand their children over, but most mothers are too scared of the legal system and social workers to do that. Instead they take beta-blockers and suffer from broken hearts.

It should not take Penelope Leach to question the harm caused to children who are ordered to divide their time between two homes – particularly where there is a history of abusive or criminal behaviour on the part of the father. That should be obvious to anybody who has raised children and seen how they value security and safety, and how they benefit from good role models and suffer from bad ones.

It is high time the Family Court, CAFCASS and the Ministry of Justice reviewed their approach on weekend stays and shared parenting. Thanks to their exaggerated adherence to father’s rights what is happening in the court at present is akin to institutional abuse of children.

If the former partners of abusive and feckless men had the time and energy they would set up their own pressure group – possibly Mothers4Justice – to counterbalance the over-influential fathers’ pressure groups. Sadly mothers simply do not have the time, so children continue to suffer from this unnecessary institutional abuse.

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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.