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The Maintenance Act contains a number of innovations which should help the maintenance system to run more smoothly. The basic principle of child maintenance has always been that both parents should contribute to the maintenance of their children in accordance with their means. This simple equation has never worked very well in Namibia - but the new law should help.

For one thing, the new law will make sure that all children are treated equally. It says that all children are entitled to a fair share of their parents' resources, regardless of their order of birth - and the same principles will apply to all children, regardless of whether they were born inside or outside of marriage and regardless of what customary law applies.

An innovation is that a share of pregnancy and birth-related expenses can now be included as part of a maintenance claim, meaning that mothers and fathers are expected to share responsibility for the child right from the very point of conception.

Another innovation is a provision which makes it possible for primary caretakers - persons other than parents who take primary responsibility for the daily care of a child to approach the maintenance court for help with getting payments from one or both parents directly.

The new law will operate more efficiently. Those 'deadbeat dads' who ignore the summons to come to court will find that maintenance orders can now be made in their absence.

The introduction of maintenance investigators will make it harder for people to hide themselves or their income. This should help stamp out abuse of the maintenance courts by dishonest parents on either side of the case.

Where someone does not have a cash income to use for maintenance, the new law allows for payment in kind - such as maintenance in the form of cattle. This should help to make the law workable for rural families as well as urban ones.

Another new provision will make it possible for maintenance payments to go directly into bank accounts instead of being collected in person at the court - a simple, practical improvement which will save parents time and money.

The new law also offers better enforcement mechanisms. Where a parent defaults on maintenance payments, it will be possible to utilize simple procedures to attach property or wages. Criminal charges will be used only as a last resort, meaning that the sentences for willful failure to pay maintenance are likely to become tougher.

And yet the law is even-handed. Maintenance recipients who abuse maintenance money by using for themselves instead of for the child can also now be punished.

The new law emphasizes maintenance as a mechanism for the needs of the children, instead of a power struggle between mother and father. It should be a step forward in putting children first.