Through a book and radio programmes, the Child Maintenance Project aimed to: empower women with information on private child maintenance and how to access it; expose the difficulties experienced by women who try to secure child maintenance so that other women will be forewarned and forearmed; highlight where the law fails women and children and what needs to be changed; encourage fathers to pay child maintenance and to provide moral support to mothers and children; and to provide a step-by-step guide to women in the Greater Cape Town area who wish to act against fathers who are not paying child support. Vanessa Witbooi was employed in 2002 as the project co-ordinator.
Child Maintenance project participants. Standing: Carla Finlay, Sumaya Güles, Vanessa Witbooi, Shehaam Appolis, Marilyn Saffier, Colleen Trichaardt, Zuleigah Vallie, Pina. Seated: Jennifer Goldhawk, Daphne Smith, Freda Warley, Thembeka Dukuza.

The project was funded by the Ford Foundation, Southern African Office and the Open Society Foundation.

Book: For our children: Thirteen women tell their stories

In For our children, 13 mothers describe their struggles to get the fathers of their children to pay child maintenance. Sometimes exhausted, often sad, always brave, these women are on the front line of a battle that affects rich and poor, old and young, black an white. Their stories expose the cruel gaps in the application of the Maintenance Act; they reveal the cunning with which irresponsible fathers dodge the law. They also shed a poignant light on the tenderness that can exist between human beings – and how it can fail.

From the introduction by Vanessa Witbooi: "These are stories about the battle women across the whole range of the "Rainbow Nation" must wage. All too often it is a battle they lose, despite the new Maintenance Act of 1998.

The monster of careless fatherhood knows no boundaries. Some of our 13 story-tellers come from wealthy backgrounds and continued this way of life during their marriages. After divorce, however, they were forced into poverty together with their children. When I recorded one woman's story at her house, she apologised for being unable to offer me anything more than a glass of water. She did not have a teaspoon of coffee or a teabag in her home.

Some of the fathers who feature in these stories divorced their children as well as their wives, witholding not only money but warmth and care as well. Many of their children have gone hungry. Some will leave school early in the hope of finding work that will help to feed their siblings.

Recording these stories was not easy. Sometimes children with hungry and unhappy faces peeped into the the room where I was interviewing the mother. They wanted food. The pain on their faces was sometimes unbearable.

Also hard, even devastating, was to observe how the struggle for maintenance eats away at the daily lives and energies of women. The first thing on their minds when they wake up in the morning, it shadows them throughout the day and keeps them from sleep long after they turn out the light or blow out the candle..."

Radio Programmes

We worked with one of Open Society Foundation's project partners, Radio KC in Paarl, to produce radio programmes about the women's struggles for maintenance.