Court investigators boost child support claims
19 October 2020 | Local News
The landmark appointment last year of ten maintenance investigators to nine magistrate courts to boost child support cases, has yielded positive results with more than 1 640 cases dealt with within less than a year.
“This change has hugely impacted the turnaround period of matters being investigated. The more investigators we have, balanced with the amount of maintenance officers available, the better for efficient for cases,” Simon Idipo of the justice ministry said last week.
Yolande Engelbrecht of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) underlined that among the pivotal impact of the investigators is that this will allow "the maintenance courts to ensure that defendants and witnesses are found and the financial status of the parties is properly investigated, resulting in a higher success rate".
Prior to the appointment of the investigators last year, the LAC has long advocated for the urgent need to appoint investigators to ensure cases are handled more effectively and timeously.
Idipo said the appointments in November 2019 drastically increased the time spent on investigating child support claims, from an average of just one or two days to a full working week spent on investigating claims. This work includes the serving of court and criminal papers, tracing defendants and witnesses, uncovering financial and employment data, among other vital processes.
“For years cases have dragged on because of the inability of complainants to provide or locate defendants, but this has been resolved. The serving of court processes is now effective and efficient, compared to previous years before the appointment of the investigators," he said.
“Maintenance is still a priority concern in Namibia. Any sufficient improvement in the maintenance courts should be applauded especially considering that the main reason for hiring maintenance investigators was to make the process more efficient, faster and easy as the law intends it to be,” Engelbrecht explained.
Before their appointment in November last year, none of Namibia’s maintenance courts had investigators onboard since 2005, despite the maintenance law which critics said was undermined by the absence of investigators for which the Act provides.
“This is great news. Child maintenance has been one of the greatest challenges we’ve seen in our society. The responsibility of childcare is always placed on the shoulders of women with many men playing no part in the upbringing of children,” James Itana, the director of the Regain Trust, said this week.
He added that apart from the institutional boost related to monetary support for single parents, he hopes efforts are also being made to “educate men on the important role they play in the upbringing of children by being present and involved.”
The justice ministry confirmed this week that of the 1 645 cases investigated between November 2019 and September 2020, 187 were conducted in Keetmanshoop, 384 in Swakopmund, 400 in Walvis Bay and 253 in Otjiwarongo.
Ondangwa’s investigator dealt with 169 cases, the Oshakati investigator probed 224 cases, and the Rundu investigator, who is responsible for two regions, dealt with 445 cases.
Katima Mulilo’s child support investigator oversaw 300 cases.
Itana said the work of the investigators proves that “if ministries take the necessary steps as outlined in our laws and policies we will start seeing the results such as in this case”.
He added that although nine courts now have investigators onboard, it is vital that the remaining 32 maintenance courts are also supplied with investigators.
“I think the Ministry of Justice can use this as a positive case to influence government to allocate more resources towards the appointment of investigators which will greatly contribute towards the reduction of the current backlog of child maintenance cases in the country."
In April 2018 it was revealed that nearly half of all active maintenance cases in Namibia's 33 magistrate courts are cases where parents, mostly fathers, have failed to adhere to court ordered child support payments.
A summary provided by the Office of the Judiciary at the time showed that out of 31 104 active maintenance cases before 33 Namibian courts, 15 097 are default cases.
“On average, someone makes a maintenance complaint in Namibia every 30 minutes during working hours. Between 4 000 to 5 000 complaints are filed at the maintenance courts each year,” a study by the LAC had found.
Itana said aside from appointing more investigators, in terms of child support challenges in Namibia “there is a need to strengthen the capacity and involvement of social workers and in severe instances psychologist to assist in helping parents identify gender-equitable ways of parenting”.
He added: “Parents need to be educated that despite the ending of an intimate relationship or turmoil in a relationship, they need to maintain a healthy parental relationship focused primarily on the best interest of the children. Achieving such an understanding often requires parents to undergo training and even counselling.”