Single mothers’ ordeal

THEY have gone through the agony of getting a divorce — an emotional roller coaster that has affected their daily life.

As their financial woes increase, they struggle to make ends meet. The strain is exacerbated by a contentious custody dispute.

Their problems cannot be resolved overnight. Some divorces take a few months, others, several years.

With child care getting more expensive — plus escalating living costs — some have to hold down two jobs, leaving little time for the children.

It’s a trying situation for most divorced mothers.

As anecdotal evidence shows, women receive primary parenting responsibilities and physical custody of the children far more often than men.

It’s not hard to see the problems experienced by most divorced mothers — their burden, their response to coping with the trama and dire consequences of a broken marriage and family.

thesundaypost recently interviewed four divorced single mothers with the consent of the Single Mothers’ Association of Sarawak (Pitsa). In their late 30s and early 40s, these women have endured several years of hardship trying to get child support from their former husbands and putting up with prejudicial treatment.

“I’m saddened by public perception of single mothers. It seems once you are labelled ‘IT’ (ibu tunggal), people won’t believe you when you tell them your story,” lamented Siti, a handicapped single mother.

Since her divorce, instead of giving morale support, her family have been treating her with disdain and indifference.

Siti was born normal but suffered from poliomyelitis and osteoarthritis in both knees later in life. Despite her handicaps, she has to look after her three biological children and an adopted child.

Her eldest daughter is a second semester undergraduate at University Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), her son, a student of Maktab Sains Mara, is waiting for his SPM result while her youngest daughter is now in Form One in SMK Tabuan Jaya Sports School.

“Although I’m handicapped, none of my children have received financial support from any welfare agency, including the Kumpulan Amanah Murid Miskin (KWAM), for education.

“My daughter is one of the bright students in her school, scoring 8A1 in the SPM in 2005. She was also acknowledged as one of the outstanding students throughout the country in that year’s SPM.

“With that excellent result, she applied for many scholarships but never got any and had to borrow from the National Higher Learning Institution Trust Fund (PTPTN) to further her studies,” Siti lamented.

“Even my youngest daughter never received any help from KWAM until she entered Form One.”

Presently, Siti is employed by a private firm, earning RM570 per month as a lift attendant in one of the federal government buildings at Simpang Tiga.

For Hamsiah, her hope of living in her own house is slim because her former husband has yet to fulfill his legal obligation to finish building the house in their village for her and the children.

“I have approached the Legal Aid Bureau to ask my former husband to fulfill his legal obligation (building the house) and comply with the court order to pay us a monthly RM500 maintenance but they keep asking me to wait,” she claimed.

“Until when I don’t know … but in the letter of agreement, my former husband has agreed to complete the half-built house in the kampung for me and the children and continue paying maintenance as long as the children are still studying.”

Since her divorce in 2004, Hamsiah said she had been selling kueh, fried bee hoon (rice noodles) and nasi lemak just to keep the family going and pay for her first son’s first semester diploma course at Politeknik.

Another single mother, Kilimi, in her mid 30s, is sad that only one of her three primary school children is receiving financial support from KWAM although she is paid just RM450 per month as a nursery assistant.

“My salary is barely enough to make ends meet, let alone pay for my children’s education. Since my divorce in 2007, I have been the sole breadwinner,” said Kilimi who is still going through the divorce process and has custody of her five children.

“When I asked why my other two children are not getting financial support from KWAM, I was told my divorce was not official. I showed the teacher the official document of my divorce but was told I needed the official declaration from the court.

“What makes me wonder is why other children — some from one family and still living with both parents — are receiving KWAM help but not mine.”

Kilimi said although her monthly income was below the hardcore poverty line index, her other children were still denied financial support.

As for Alia, she is fighting to become the rightful owner of a flat registered in her husband’s name. She said she has been paying the loan instalment most of the time since the flat was purchased.

“Because I have been servicing most of the instalments with my own salary, I have requested that ownership of the flat in the hire purchase agreement be transferred to me.

“But the developer and the bank refuse to do so. I have since stopped paying because it’s not fair to continue when the property does not belong to me,” claimed Alia, who has custody of her two children — one in primary three and the other in form one.

Alia, a sales promoter in a supermarket, insisted she was serious about getting the flat transferred to her name.

“I’m more than willing to continue paying and my parents are also ready to help out. I just hope the developer and the bank will look into my plight because my children and I need a home of our own,” she said.

Pitsa chairperson Salmah Ibrahim, who was present during the interview, said the four single mothers had reasons to feel frustrated, desperate and angry.

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