SOCIOLOGIST Dr Herbert Gayle says he will not support any call in Parliament for mandatory DNA paternity testing at birth as the solution to stemming the scourge of domestic violence locally.
Dr Gayle, a university researcher, was responding to statements by St James Central Member of Parliament Heroy Clarke, who on Tuesday, in the 2021 State of the Constituency Debate in Parliament, said he intends to move a motion calling for DNA paternity testing at birth.
Clarke referenced a study by Dr Gayle stating that paternal issues contribute to Jamaica's high rate of domestic violence that leads to murders.
In an interview yesterday with the Jamaica Observer, Dr Gayle said the study, dubbed The Male Fertility Study, is being conducted by his master of science students in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work at The University of the West Indies, Mona, and will not be concluded until another two years as the progress was slowed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The preliminary results, he said, from a sample of 2,000 people from the upper middle, middle, near poor or lower middle class, and poor people, so far, indicate that 20 per cent, or one in five people, experience paternity fraud, for which the associated violence is extremely intense.
He, however, expressed his reluctance in lending support to the position, as expressed by Clarke, that the Parliament make legislation to require testing.
“If you have a situation where one of five people is a jacket, do we begin to build out the economy? Remember, child shifting practices is a corollary of poor economics. You're not going to find 20 per cent of jackets in a country that is stable, because you're not going to have child shifting practices of that high level of degree. My reluctance is based on this fact. Government should be responsible for trying to build out an economy so you don't have bad results. To me, it is symptomatic for us to want to fix the results, rather than fix the root,” Gayle said.
He added: “The fact is that 20 per cent is a lot. So the question, as a scientist, that must emerge in my head is, how much violence are we going to be creating and conflict when you and I have a child, and I have banked all my emotions on this child, only to hear it belongs to someone else? Is that helping a country that is already ranked fourth in violence? Once a country is ranked in the top 10 most violent countries in the world it is also going to be ranked extremely highly in domestic violence, because domestic violence is a corollary of the larger frame of violence. Violent countries have high levels of domestic violence also, and that is why I am not a supporter of the idea of a bill at this time, unless there is massive education on the matter and this is projected to be five or 10 years down the road, giving families space to work out the issues.”
Dr Gayle also mentioned that the position has to be fair and carefully thought out as it forms part of what he described as child shifting practices.
“What's the pattern of jackets? We've noticed that the poorest people don't get jackets, or they are less likely to get jackets. So if you're unemployed, nothing is happening in your life, the probability of you getting a jacket is extremely low. The jacket actor is more or less the poorest male, but the jacket receptor is more or less the earning male who is not poor, but near-poor men — the lower middle class — who has a nice job and is trying, which indicate that lower middle class men are the greatest receptors of paternity fraud. There's a lot of pressure brought to bear on that small number of people and that could lead to implosion. That's where the problem is.
“But there is a positive spin. If a child was given to a poor man, their future would be likely blighted, but being given to someone in the near-poor economic bracket means the child has better life chances; hence, the child shifting practice,” he said.
Meanwhile, gender specialist Linnette Vassell says Clarke's argument has no credence, as the details of the peer-reviewed research are needed and global studies, including Caribbean studies, have never identified quarrels over paternity as a specific issue in gender-based violence.
Vassell said the 2016 Women's Health Survey done by Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) and UN Women had established that gender-based violence is triggered by certain factors, such as alcohol abuse by men, drug use by men, men's own experience of violence as children in their homes against their mothers, and when men have outside relationships with their current partners. Another trigger, Vassell mentioned, is when men are in relationships with younger girls, particularly those under 19 years. She said there is a high prevalence of violence against young girls in those kind of relationships.
“What he [Clarke] needs to be, is informed about the factors that impel violent behaviours among men. It's very shocking that a Member of Parliament in 2021 could be raising this issue in this way without giving us empirical data. Just to call somebody's name is not enough. We need facts. A proposal such as this will stigmatise women and further create distrust among men and women, when what is needed is partnerships to solve what is a pandemic of violence against women and girls,” she said.
“We need to find ways to uproot and expose patriarchy and the view that men have power and exercise power, and women are just pawns in these relationships. That is what we need to look at and address. Instead, this sensational call is just going to set us back, and we hope this will generate informed conversations about what the real issues are and what the real solutions need to be.”
Vassell also called on gender affairs minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange to rein in Clarke, as she is the one leading the thrust through the Ministry of Gender Affairs and through the Spotlight Initiative project to address the issue of domestic and gender-based violence.
“She [Grange] needs to call him out, reject the assertions he has made, and she needs to be forceful about it. We are being data-driven about how we address gender-based violence and, on the other hand, we have this man who seems to be looking for a sensational entrée coming up with this thing and they need to call him out,” Vassell said.
Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, gender specialist, also rubbished Clarke's position.
“It seems to me it's a shift of the blame and victimisation of women. Domestic violence, which is rampant and widespread in Jamaica, is not restricted to a specific class. [And,] although we tend to primarily collect data from poor people, we know it's also in upper and middle class. We also know that for men who are very sure it is their children they're also beating on their wives. So to say it is because men are unsure or it is paternity fraud why they are doing domestic violence is, in my estimation, scandalous and really overlooking the major issue of domestic violence, which is men who are emotionally and psychologically sick, men who feel powerless and therefore use that as a form of power and terror to victimise women,” she said.
Professor Palmer Adisa added that if Clarke is to push for paternity testing at birth he must also lobby for legislation demanding that when paternity is established those men support their children.
“While I think it is OK if he wants to push for paternity test at birth...to push for paternity test without pushing for financial, emotional, and school support would be, again, to miss the point.
“Is there going to be a law that demands you support a child, physically, emotionally, and socially? The whole notion of a single parent is a misnomer as no child comes in here singly. The fact that we have taken on that slogan and embraced it is erroneous, because what it means is that men again get off to being careless for just depositing their sperm and not taking responsibility. The issue is not about paternity. The issue is about domestic violence, which is prevalent and an epidemic, and which needs to be treated.”
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