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Divorce is still an irrelevant term in Meghalaya. But number of single mothers in the state is one of the highest in the country. Most of them do not know what ‘divorce’ is. They are just abandoned by their husbands or rather their male partners. It’s been a traditional practice for man just moving into the female partner’s house and to have children. With changing times, the practice is in conflict with basic rights of the female folk. While ‘abandonment’ by husband is not a new phenomenon, the impact on the wife is far more serious in present day context. In the absence of any law to make marriage registration compulsory, the woman is left with no legal safeguard. Worse, if she has children. Men, on the other hand, are also victims of another traditional practice, matrilineal system of inheritance. It also does not hold any man liable for providing financial compensation to his former ‘wife’ and children. While some take advantage of the norm and others are in no position to provide compensation due to lack of direct control over wealth. In both cases, women are at the receiving end. The children suffer too.

The other day an Opposition leader in the assembly wondered if a social aid scheme for single mothers will encourage more divorces in the state. The proposition is weird and holds no water. The problem at hand is suffering of the single mothers. They need help and protection. It was the right move by the government to cover single mothers also under the Chief Minister’s Social Assistance Scheme. Earlier, the scheme covered widows, physically challenged, and infirm people.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) legislator Jemino Mawthoh while raising doubt over inclusion of single mothers also admitted that a lot of single mothers of 17-18 years come to him seeking financial assistance. In fact, most MLAs have to dole huge sums to such single mothers to keep their vote base intact. According to rights activist Michael Syiem, this is the prime factor of the government still sitting on the Marriage Registration Act, which was passed in the assembly in 2012. “They do not want to lose grip over the large section of voters (single mothers and their families),” says Syiem. His words hold logic, unlike the UDP legislator. Single mothers, who are victims of absence of a marriage Act, need proper government assistance and not alms from MLAs.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 18, 2015)

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