Men with multiple women, babies pose paternity leave challenge

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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HEAD of the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), Oneil Grant says there are men who genuinely want to participate in their newborn's life, but the issue of how to deal with men who have multiple women and births is posing a challenge in the development of paternity leave legislation.

He was speaking to stakeholders at an International Men's Day forum held at The University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters Building in Mona, St Andrew, yesterday, where proposed paternity leave legislation was discussed.

The majority of sentiments expressed in a 2011 survey conducted by the JCSA were that men should be granted paternity leave in order to bond with their children, and provide critical support to mothers.

But there were some people who were wary of the proposal, expressing the view that men would use that time to their personal advantage instead of assisting with their newborns; or that some men with multiple newborns would abuse the provision.

“The issue of length of leave is something that we are struggling with. Sixty per cent of the public sector are women and a great majority of them are women of child-bearing age, and on the flip side of it we have men in the public sector who are also of child-producing age... These men would want to participate in their children's lives… however, our anecdotal experience has been that men who have multiple children with multiple women are posing a challenge to the definition of who is a father for the laws that we are trying to implement,” Grant stated.

He said, however, that a simple solution may exist in that maternity leave already provides a template.

“No more than three children in any one employment, and we [can] go further to say the child that you are declaring must be the child of a declared spouse... You can't be declaring children from two different women in the same space, it must be for only one. It forces us, as men, to be a little bit more responsible… We are quite confident that the legislation will be passed… We continue to push hard,” he said.

The JCSA president also pointed to the intricacies of pregnancies and unforeseen circumstances which can arise, requiring fathers to give physical and emotional support to their partners for extended periods. He pointed to pregnancies which turn out to be life-threatening or require emergency procedures and lengthy recovery times for mothers, and hospitalisation for newborns.

He noted that, at the moment, there are no provisions for fathers which would allow them to take time off, nor for the length of time required in such circumstances.

Grant gave his own personal account, pointing out that the only time off he had been able to access which was available in the public service was five days' compassionate leave

“Our objective is to look at the work-life balance on the occasion of the birth or a new child coming into the space of the household…It's not the easiest conversation to have because our employers have a mindset that the issue of parenting only revolves around a child being born, and that a child being born must be dealt with in a 40-day period,” he stated.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Denzil Thorpe supported the points made by Grant, stressing that: “In a normal birth it's one thing, but in a situation where there is hospitalisation and an extended period, that support is even more important,” he said.

The only country in the English-speaking Caribbean which grants paternity leave is The Bahamas. It grants one week of unpaid, family related leave.

The forum was hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport and the Bureau of Gender Affairs, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme and the Citizen Security and Justice Programme.

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