Paternity fraud or 'jacket' — should we let sleeping dogs lie?Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Jamaicans are wont to joke about issues of paternity, or 'jacket' as it is popularly called, but there is nothing funny about Government backbencher Mr Heroy Clarke's plan to bring to Parliament a motion calling for DNA paternity testing at birth.
A DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) paternity test is nearly 100 per cent accurate at determining the biological father of another person, according to America's century-old Cleveland Clinic. It is becoming more prevalent as paternity fraud increases.
Moreover, it is in the nature of human beings to be curious about who we are and who we belong to, which has given rise to companies like AncestryDNA, which traces a customer's family tree.
There is little empirical data showing to what extent paternity fraud is an issue for Jamaica. But the perception that it is common is fuelled by anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle's 2016 study finding that 25 per cent of Jamaican men were unknowingly raising children they did not father.
That perception was further encouraged by a 2019 report by Polygenics Consulting, a Jamaican company offering DNA testing, which indicated that 70 per cent of men it tested were not the father of the children said to be theirs.
While that report was met by laughter and, in some cases derision, it is no laughing matter for men who are trying to pursue immigrations for their children to join them in the US, which requires paternity testing to verify biological relationships.
Mr Clarke's suggestion about DNA testing at birth has brought attention to an important issue — though we would suggest that it is a matter worthy of our best wisdom, but has not, as he proposes, reached the stage for legislation.
Mr Clarke advocates DNA testing to help reduce domestic violence. That, too, has not been studied enough to link the two in a way that warrants legislation. In the meantime, there are other issues to be first considered.
Is DNA testing infallible? There is a view that accuracy depends on the testing procedure being completed correctly, as blood or tissue testing always depends on the quality of the testers and of the testing procedures.
Should the Government pay for the DNA test, as Mr Clarke believes? Taxpayers might not feel persuaded that they should carry that burden and that it should be left up to the person who requires the test to be done.
When is a good time for a man to find out that a child he has already begun to love, care for, and form an emotional bond with, is not his? And what about the potential trauma for the mother at a time when she has just given birth, if the defrauded man abandons the relationship?
Mr Clarke says he is hoping that the proposed framework will put an end to the practice of women knowingly giving 'jackets' to men, a situation that he said can likely result in psychological damage for the child.
We believe that these are social and cultural issues that cannot be legislated away. As economic times get harder, we expect that more women will deliberately identify other men as their children's fathers for financial reasons.
That, however, can be dealt with under the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act, which provides that a woman who knowingly names the wrong man as her child's father on the birth certificate can be fined up to $250,000 or face three months in prison.
Maybe Mr Clarke should let sleeping dogs lie.