Islamabad - Farhana and Haider are standing side by side at the rostrum of a local family court with no eye contact with each other. Both are busy getting attention of the court’s clerk sitting next to the podium so that they could register their attendance. Their five-year-old son Ali is standing between them, holding simultaneously the hands of his mother and father, an innocent attempt to keep them together. But he does not know that a vast gulf lies between his parents now. Everything has failed. They have failed. They have lost their relationship and reached the point of no return.

Haider married Farhana in 2008 but the couple separated in 2011. Now Ali stays with his mother and is in the courtroom in connection with his monthly meeting with his father on permission of the court. Like every young child who does not know how to express his emotions, Ali’s behaviour is his means of expression. In Ali’s eyes, they both are correct. In a bid to remain with both of them, he has been split mentally and emotionally.

Soon after the clerk marked attendance of the couple, Haider leaves the podium and hugs his son as his mother looks on silently. Both father and son sit on a bench in the courtroom as there is no specified visitation room in the court premises. Ali is shy of going to his father but as his father pulls his shirt, the later sits in his lap. Farhana is standing along with her elder sister in the courtroom to ‘check’ if anything irritating goes with her son.

“I don’t know who he is,” said Ali when this scribe asked him about his father. “Do you have your aeroplane with you… show me,” asks Haider to his son as he feels a little bit uneasy. Ali pulls mobile phone of his father out of his pocket and starts playing on it while lying in his lap. The mother gets irked when Haider starts whispering in Ali’s ear but she opts to remain silent.

The ex-partners cited different reasons of separation. They blamed everyone else instead of owning their mistakes. Haider said that interference of his in-laws pushed them to a point of no return. However, his ex-wife held Haider a habitual marriage-maker. In her observation, Haider always took marriage as a ploy to grab the dowry articles of the spouse. “It was his third marriage and we were unaware of this,” she said as she invited attention of her son.

Rehana told this scribe, “There is no way to turn one visit a month into normal parenting.” She was of the view that the children of separated parents are literally split in two. They experience emotional stress whenever they leave one for the other, she added. She said it has been a common practice to incite children against the other party before they are here for meeting on the court’s orders. The party in possession of the child would incite against the other party whenever they are on a visit, she added. She said courts fix meagre maintenance charges and usually males show less income to avert heavy maintenance charges. As Rehana asks her son to turn back, Haider leaves the courtroom silently.

A number of broken families are here to visit their children. According to the court clerk, some 50-55 visitation cases are fixed every Saturday as children are free from schools. He said divorce follows suits as child custody, visitation, child support and paternity. The parents who become involved in custody or visitation disputes have been here in the court every Saturday, he added.

Sitting outside the courtroom is a father with his two children. “My daughter is 11-year-old while the son is four and a half years old. The court has allowed me to meet them twice a month for 90 minutes.” Father has brought along toys and eatables. He sits with his children as they play fun. All the three assemble an aeroplane as they spend time together. The young child climbs up to the shoulders of his father as the latter talks to his daughter while sitting on a broken chair.

The father who wished not to be named said they married in 2002 and separated in 2011. When asked if he has any regrets over the decision, he said, “No. I tried my best to provide each and every thing to my ex-wife but I could not abandon my ageing parents on the desire of my ex-wife.” He stated the logic as to why he divorced his wife. “It was out of family marriage. Financially I am quite independent but my ex-wife did not want me to care my parents,” he added. On question of children’s mental health, he admitted it cast negative effects and disturbed them very much. His ex-wife had not turned up in the court rather the uncle and grandfather of the children produced them in the court on that day. The children say good-bye to their father and walk with their uncle out of the court premises.

Another mother holding the hands of her two kids is sitting on a bench in the courtroom. Taha Rehman is 6 while Ashraf Rehman is 5.

They are the sons of one Altaf Ahmad. Altaf has filed a suit in the court for guardianship of his two sons but rarely appears in the court, the mother told this scribe. This time too, he has not come to see his children, she added. “My Abbu is at home,” said the elder one when this scribe asked where his father is.

However, his mother immediately intercepted to clarify: “They call my father Abbu… they call my mother Mama and call me Aapa. They have a little idea about their biological father. The elder one was 2 and the younger one was one when their father divorced me in 2010. Our relationship remained for just three years.”

She said that children’s father has remarried and pays a little attention to his kids now. Divorce is a reality but the overbearing sense of shame and guilt keep the broken families silent on the issue.                       

            –On request of the persons interviewed in the story and to minimise negative effects of publicity, the real names have been withheld intentionally.