Fathers demonstrate for their rights

Every year an estimated 30,000 children in the Czech Republic go through the trauma of their parents divorce. In 96 % of cases the courts give custody to one parent only, which means that the other parent spends only restricted time with their children - weekends and holidays. Since Czechs courts almost always give custody of children to the mother, fathers CAN feel discriminated against. Daniela Lazarova has the story

On Tuesday a group of divorced fathers assembled outside the Czech Justice Ministry to protest against what they called the "violation of children's rights".

"Due to the practices of post communist judges a basic children's right is being violated on a mass scale and without fear of reprisal . A divorce does not end a parents rights and duties towards a child...."

The dozen or so protestors gathered outside the ministry insisted that they had a right to share in their children's upbringing, watch them grow up and provide them with a role-model. "We do not want to borrow our children for the weekend" they argued. At the centre of this dispute is the fact that a 1998 amendment to the law enables judges to give parents joint custody. Even so, most judges still feel it is in the best interests of a child to have just one home.

Vladimir Marsalek, who is fighting to get joint custody of his daughter, does not agree.

A child can easily have a room at both his mothers and father's house, two sets of friends, two cupboards of toys ....That should not be a problem psychologically. What IS a problem is for a child not to have two parents. I agree that sometimes this can be difficult -especially if the parents live further away from each other. But many fathers I know are willing to move close to where their kids live in order to spend as much time as possible with their child. However our present day judges are living in the past - they do not consider it healthy for a child to have two families.

Miroslav Kapr, who sees his daughter once a fortnight, says he feels he has become a stranger, something like a distant relative. He would like the child to spend every other month of her life with him. Or even move from one home to the other every fortnight. Under the present legislation this is theoretically possible, but few Czech judges and social workers find it acceptable. Indeed many see THAT as violating a child's right to a stable home - just so as to fulfill the parents' needs and requirements. The fact that it is not the law which is at the centre of this dispute but a widespread attitude suggests that the change these fathers are demanding will not come anytime soon. In their case reaching a better understanding with their former wife is the best they can hope for.