WHEN St James Central Member of Parliament Heroy Clarke announced in 2021 that he intended to bring to Parliament a motion calling for DNA paternity testing at birth, debate on the matter largely centred on the fact that a large number of Jamaican children had been given to the wrong fathers at birth â€” our 'jacket' culture.
In making his contribution to the State of the Constituency Debate, Clarke had linked "paternal issues" to Jamaica's crime rate, in lobbying for action to be taken for paternity testing at birth. It touched a nerve for women, and was celebrated by men, who held that paternity tests at birth should be routine.
While Jamaica hasn't quite got to the stage of legislation yet, DNA doubt, paternity fraud and the subsequent repercussions, are problems greater than just "giving a man a jacket", as Jamaicans put it. It has bearing on a child's perception of self, inheritance, migration, birthright, and children's rights, in ways many women perpetrators don't think about
Why do they do it?
Two Northern Caribbean University studies, The Perspectives and Practices of Women on Paternity Fraud in Jamaica: Post COVID-19 and The Male's Perspective on Paternity Fraud in Jamaica during the Post-COVID-19 Era, by Paul A Bourne at al, published in February on ResearchGate, explored the prevalence of paternity fraud in Jamaica, the reasons for some women committing this fraud, and men's perspectives concerning paternity fraud.
The researchers conducted online surveys, and found that the most common reason for women committing paternity fraud, as stated by 15.1 per cent of women, was that "the man was financially stable".
They found that 12.1 per cent of females ages 18-plus indicated knowingly incorrectly ascribing fatherhood to a male, and 30.1 per cent of the sampled females indicated that they would not have DNA testing done on their children.
"The findings have indicated that some women intentionally create paternal inconsistencies; there are also instances when the mother was unsure about the child's genuine father. Because of her convictions, the mother unintentionally gave her child to the wrong father," the study noted. "Therefore [we] can argue that women may intentionally or unintentionally give men children that are not biologically theirs. Our main findings are that financial security is the primary determinant of paternity fraud... Though women generally condemn paternity fraud, most believe women who perform such acts should not receive punishment."
For the men, 83.5 per cent of those sampled stated they would take a DNA test to determine if they were a child's biological father; and 86.6 per cent believed DNA paternity testing is a man's right.
Faced with this dilemma is a St Elizabeth mother of four, now pregnant with number five, and from whom the father has requested a DNA test. The mom told All Woman that the previous four children's fathers had all questioned paternity after she got pregnant too; and only one is involved with his child, after paying for the test. She's not keen on pursuing the other men for support or involvement, because she's really not sure herself. With this current pregnancy, she is trying to convince the father, using mathematics over science to calculate the dates, that the child is his.
She said she feels insulted that he would ask for a test, especially seeing their financial worries, and queried whether it was indeed true, as she had heard (rumours have been circulating that all newborns are tested at birth) that her baby will be DNA tested.
The dad, on the other hand, has sent her messages demanding his right to know, agreeing to pay for the tests, and in the meantime, has put a pause on support, because he doesn't want the obligation towards a potential other man's child.
Claiming that too many of the women he knows have been "raffling" their bellies, and that he has read the reports (A 2019 report by Polygenics Consulting, a Jamaican company which offers DNA testing, indicated that of all the paternity tests that the company has conducted since 2015, 70 per cent were not the father; and a report by social anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle showed that 25 per cent of Jamaican men are unknowingly raising children that are not biologically theirs), he said he does not want to "be the fifth fool that his babymother is sending a little further".
The legal dilemma
Intentionally naming the wrong father on a child's birth records is an offence under the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act. Section 19b(a) of the Act states that any person who wilfully gives to the registrar any information which that person knows to be false shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $250,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.
A child has a right in law to the legal and social recognition and the consequent security of the recognition of their father/child relationship. There is also the right to have a personal relationship with the father, to have him contribute to their maintenance; to be recognised as one of his beneficiaries or dependents pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1993; and to have their legal share pursuant to the Intestate's Estates and Property Charges) Act.
DNA testing is used for some immigrant visa applications, and this is how a leaked diplomatic cable showed that one in every 10 men who turned up at the United States Embassy in Jamaica found out that the children they were filing for weren't theirs.
The diplomatic cable also suggested that the percentage of men filing for their children and finding out they were victims of fraud could have been higher, if some applicants had not abandoned the paternity process midstream.
Genetic testing is used to establish the validity of a relationship in instances where the father's name is either not on the birth certificate, or was added late. The fraud has resulted in broken relationships, and children not being able to migrate.
Victims of paternity fraud may have been paying maintenance for years. Once the truth is revealed, it is never a simple matter to be reimbursed for those payments.
Paternity fraud was listed as a concern by the National Parenting Support Commission, as something that presents numerous problems for children regarding their right to an identity. The missing father's name from the birth certificate is sometimes indicative of a missing father from the life of the child. Not only does the child not have the presence of a father, but the child also does not have a full identity. Children are often preoccupied with the idea of not having a father, and are prone to bouts of aggression, depression, low self-esteem and poor performance.
The missing name can also cause strained family relationships, broken families, financial burdens, a cycle of repeated behaviour, ridicule and harsh criticism from the community, and embarrassment, the NPSC said.