'Jacket' culture will complicate paternity law

Thursday, July 20, 2017

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness, responding to questions from Opposition Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites this week, announced that a joint select committee of Parliament is likely to examine the issue of mandatory addition of the names of fathers to Jamaican birth certificates.

We suggest that this is going to be a very thorny issue and there should be no doubt about the necessity to have only the most thorough examination carried out by a joint select committee. Further, there should be adequate representation of women on that committee and exhaustive efforts made to get submissions from the public which has a history of shunning parliamentary activities.

Parliament, perhaps recognising that this is a difficult issue, has dragged its feet since the Bruce Golding Administration in 2011 announced plans to make it compulsory for fathers' names to be recorded on local birth certificates. And yet, it is an issue that Jamaicans need to face frontally for several reasons.

Despite Jamaica being a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, large numbers of children either do not have birth certificates or do not have their fathers' name on it.

Too often it is when a child needs to start school that the absence of a birth certificate or a father's name becomes an issue. Thankfully, there is legislation for late registration of births and addition of the father's name, notably the Status of Children Act dating back to the Michael Manley Administration of the 1970s.

But there is no legislation making it mandatory for the father's name to be added to the certificate, and not even the Family Court can force a man to accept paternity. This often leaves mothers with the useless plea that the child has “everything for him” or to be subject to the whims of a grandmother deciding whether or not the child has features of the family.

One of the most intractable problems the joint select committee will face is the matter of determining paternity where a man denies he is the father.

One could argue that it is now part of the culture wherein some women will designate a man to be the father of their child, knowing that he is not. Or not being sure who the father is, after dating two or more men at the same time, but will choose the man they prefer to be the father. This is the well known 'jacket' syndrome.

Strange as it might sound, it is not uncommon to have two men making claims to paternity of the same child, whether it is to deprive the real father out of spite for impregnating his woman, or to cover his inability to father a child.

In most of those cases, it is obvious that there will have to be resort to DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) testing to determine contested paternity. Indeed, some embassies insist on DNA tests when a child is being processed for emigration, under certain circumstances.

The joint select committee will also have to consider what to do when the father cannot be found for registration or for a DNA test; the provision of counselling services for families rocked by the discovery that the husband is not the father, and for settling disputes when the designated father does not wish to give up the child to the biological father.




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