The aim of this dissertation is to establish if the unmarried father has been placed in a better position regarding his rights to his child with the advent of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. Prior to the commencement of the Children’s Act a number of different sets of legislation encompassed the unmarried father’s position. The unmarried father could not automatically acquire any rights to his child and had to prove that it would be in the child’s best interests to be allowed contact.
The study was done on the basis of an analysis of the interaction of the unmarried father’s rights with the child’s rights, as well as the interaction of their rights with the Constitution. An analysis was also made of the manner in which the Bill of Rights in the Constitution should be applied with respect to the relationship between parents, their children and the state. From the study it was found that the unmarried father’s rights interlink closely with those of his child and the state. It was established that the Bill of Rights must be applied both horizontally and vertically and that the primary duty rests on the parents and only passes to the state if the parents are unable to perform their primary duties to the child. It was further established from the study that a limitation on the parent’s right to equality is only justified in terms of section 36 of the Constitution by the child’s overriding right to have meaningful relationships with both parents.
A comparison was made with the relevant legislation of some African and non-African countries to establish if South Africa could learn something from their child law legislation. An analysis was also done of those sections of the Children’s Act that interact with section 21. From this analysis it was clear that many sections and phrases in the Children’s Act are unclear, undefined and open to interpretation. In this regard certain amendments to the Children’s Act are suggested in the study.
It is submitted in this study that even though the Children’s Act codified legislation pertaining to children and the unmarried father may acquire parental responsibilities and rights, the improved position is superficial and subject to obstacles. The unmarried father needs to fullfil certain requirements in order to acquire his parental responsibilities and rights, as provided for in section 21(1). One of the main problems of this section is that it does not provide for any form of proof to be provided to the unmarried father to confirm or indicate that he has acquired responsibilities and rights. Even though the mother has these rights simply because of her biological link to the child, she is hardly ever placed in the position where her parental responsibilities and rights are questioned by third parties. This is not the position with the unmarried father. He is firstly placed in a disadvantaged position because he has no way to show that he is the holder of rights and secondly he is being discriminated against, simply because he is placed in this position.
It was concluded in this study that despite the improved position of unmarried fathers, their position has only prima facie improved and they really should be placed in the same position as mothers. It is submitted that if the same rights mothers have are also afforded to unmarried fathers, it would be to the benefit of their children and their right to parental care and family life.