Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA
TODAY, more and more couples are living apart in their pursuit to put food on the table.
While it may seem like a desired choice for some, most couples are trapped between a hard place and a rock. They are presented with dire situations where they have to choose between marriage and a job amid tough economic conditions.
Most couples cannot let go of one job that easily because of their financial predicament. The economic hardships compel both spouses to work to make ends meet.
However, by virtue of contractual obligation, working spouses are at the mercy of employers who reserve the right to post them to any work station as deemed necessary.
Most employers, including Government, which is the largest employer, have enshrined as a condition in employment contracts or human resource policy, their right to transfer any employee to any work station at any time as need arises.
Unlike in the past when employers had more consideration for marriage, today employers do not necessarily regard an employee’s marital status before transferring them to work from another town or city.
It is indisputable that employers have the interest of the organisation at heart to ensure that people with the right skills are deployed to needy places.
For instance, Government is obligated to ensure that rural areas, which are lagging behind in terms of development, are also provided for in terms of skilled manpower.
This has necessitated the deployment and, in other instances, transfers of teachers, medical and agriculture personnel to rural areas.
As well intended as transfers may be, they pose a huge threat to family stability.
I know of a young couple that has been separated for close to four years now. The woman was sent by Government to work in Kabompo while the man is in Mazabuka.
Given the extremely long distance between Mazabuka and Kabompo, which is over 1,000kms, coupled with the night travel ban for public service vehicles and inhibitive transport costs, it is practically impossible for the couple to commute over weekends or even monthly.
They have to rely on annual leave, for one of the spouses to travel to see the other.
With the coming of a child on board, the situation has only gotten more complicated.
For a woman who is working miles away from the place where she was raised, there is no single relative or acquaintance in the vicinity, leaving the fate of the child to unreliable maids.
Maids have been a let-down at critical times when she needed them most.
Now that the child has been weaned off, she has decided to leave it with its grandmother in Lusaka.
Now you have the father in Mazabuka, the child in Lusaka and the mother in Kabompo. That is the situation as things stand now.
The cost implications of such a family set-up are enormous.
For a young couple, who are still in the early stages of employment, obviously, their salaries are not hefty to run three homes.
The couple has to pay rentals for two houses and meet other needs, including the child’s. As a couple that lives apart, the only option left to keep their relationship alive is through constant communication, which is not cheap.
As and whenever an opportunity shows up, they need a hefty budget for travel, which takes two days by road.
This family is a reflection of what is obtaining in many families across the country and beyond.
While there are some exceptional marriages that have weathered such circumstances, many have cracked and fallen apart.
Separation of couples for a long period is certainly a recipe for infidelity, which, in most instances, ends up in divorce and increased HIV cases. With such a scenario, it should not surprise us that the divorce rate is so high in the country. In 2017, between January and August, Zambia recorded 28,000 divorce cases and infidelity was cited as one of the major causes.
Apart from affecting couples, commuter marriages have devastating effects on children who are robbed of emotional bonding and nurturing by both parents, which is the case in an ideal family set-up where both parents are present and available.
To truly nurture children, parents need to spend more time with them.
In instances where the family is scattered, chances of children becoming delinquent are very high, especially in the absence of a solid support system.
It is indisputable that with scattered families, we are more likely to raise ‘Tokota’ boys and girls.
Commuter marriages also have a negative effect on the organisations as employees involved become less productive due to stress.
For some employees, instead of resting, they spend weekends commuting, which is stressful thereby affecting their output at work.
The emotional stress couples go through as a result of the separation and worrying about the other party also takes away from the concentration at work.
Needless to say, the importance of a family as a pillar and foundation of society cannot be overemphasised.
If the family crumbles, then society cannot stand.
It is, therefore, important to safeguard this very important unit for the good of society.
As employers decide on transferring employees, each case should be scrutinised to ascertain the impact on the family.
Employers will do well to employ people from within the areas to occupy vacant positions. In instances where individuals have to be transferred from far-flung places, they should be willing.
It is more difficult for a man to quit a job to join the wife, unlike the other way round. Employers will also do well to spare married women more unless they themselves are agreeable.
The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs needs to come up with a policy that will protect marriages and the family unit from disintegrating due to work transfers.
If nothing is done to deflate this time bomb, posterity will certainly judge us harshly.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.
Analysis: EMELDA MUSONDA