A family lawyer describes the page as a legal minefield
The page's founder says it helps women struggling to raise children alone
Lawyer: Take absentee parents to court; but page's founder calls court process inefficient
Private parental disputes in Kenya are going online – and viral.
Single parents in the East African nation are turning to a new Facebook page to share their outrage against people they claim abandoned their offspring.
The page, dubbed Dead Beat Kenya, purports to expose absentee parents. It includes information that would make most privacy advocates cringe.
Brash and in-your-face, administrators post pictures, phone numbers, employers and other private details of the alleged absentee parents, prompting a collective shudder nationwide.
No one is safe, either: Local politicians, women, even celebrities are getting named and shamed.
Jackson Njeru, the founder of Dead Beat Kenya, said he started it after seeing women struggle to raise children alone. He works at his family’s farming business but runs the page on the side with help from a couple of volunteer administrators.
“This thing is happening in all families – we have people getting kids and running away,” he said. “Our kids are being violated.”
CNN reached out to some of the alleged absentee fathers named on the page, but they all declined to comment.
‘It’s a challenge to verify’
Before he posts anything on the page, Njeru said, he asks the person making the accusation to provide evidence such as a birth certificate or any communication between the two parties. He also calls the accused and gives them a chance to defend themselves.
“We call both parties. It’s a challenge to verify,” he said. “But I remind people that they’ll be sued for defamation if they make false accusations.”
And the accusations are coming in fast and furious. And so are numerous lawsuit threats against him.
But Njeru said he’s not worried, and he stands by his posts.
“For me it’s all about the children. If I’m going to be jailed about the children, let it be,” he said.
So far, the group has resolved about 25 cases offline, he said, after alleged absentee fathers stepped up to the plate during an initial verification call.
If a resolution is reached after the alleged absentee parent’s information is posted, administrators take down the post.
A legal minefield
Ray Tollo, who practices family law in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, said the page is a legal minefield.
“The issue that I would consider first is defamation,” he said. “In Kenya, the defamation law is wide-ranging and encompasses not just things you read in the papers, but social media as well.”
And even if the information is verified, he said, there are other avenues to consider before blasting someone’s personal details on social media.
Some of the children caught up in the public shaming are teenagers, which catches them at an emotionally vulnerable time in their lives.
“The child might go through trauma, embarrassment and a lot of other future problems,” Tollo said.
Tollo said there are other options: Parents can contact a children’s court, which has government officials equipped to deal with such cases, he said. They can also talk to local elders such as chiefs and church leaders, who are widely respected in some communities.
And if all else fails, they can contact a lawyer, he said.
Long, costly process
Judy Thongori, another family attorney in Nairobi, said parents should try to resolve issues in person first.
If that fails, she said, there’s a court system in place to help aggrieved parties.
Resorting to social media may strong-arm an absentee parent into providing financial support, but it also alienates him or her from the child, Thongori said.
“Though he could provide for the child as a result of that exposure, remember participation is not just financial, it’s also physical and emotional,” she said.
However, she admitted that going to court is a long, painstaking and costly process.
“It’s a fact that our courts are not as efficient as we’d like them to be … they are overwhelmed because there are so many cases of such,” she said.
‘Their rights to pursue their interests’
Njeru said the courts are not just inefficient, they are rife with corruption, giving the wealthier parent an advantage.
“The aggrieved mothers and fathers who publish information on this page reserve their rights to pursue their interests for care, custody and maintenance of the abandoned children,” he said.
In just a week’s time, Dead Beat Kenya has attracted about 180,000 members.
Njeru said he has no plans to take it down.