Sun | May 19, 2024

Kristen Gyles | Paternity leave for fathers, not sperm donors

Published:Friday | January 27, 2023 | 12:07 AM

Ever since the release of a 2019 report from Polygenics Consulting, a DNA-testing facility in Jamaica, there has been a grossly widespread misconception that 70 per cent of Jamaican men who father children are not biological fathers to those children.

In reality, what the report indicated was that in 70 per cent of cases where DNA tests were done at the facility, paternity was not confirmed. Because many people genuinely do not have a good grasp on rudimentary statistics, the results of this study have morphed into the idea that 70 per cent of all Jamaican men have been tricked into fathering kids that are not theirs biologically.

Of course, it is not hard to conceive that 70 per cent of paternity tests done at one DNA-testing facility could be returned as negative, considering that men who typically go in search of paternity testing have reasons to doubt that they are biological parents to the children in question. Men who do not have doubts, who are typically in committed relationships with monogamous women, tend not to randomly visit DNA-testing facilities, and are therefore likely not to have been represented in the sample of men to whom the report referred. The assertion that 70 per cent of Jamaican fathers are wearing a ‘jacket’ is therefore entirely unfounded.

With that said, it is disheartening to see that where there should be celebration surrounding the paternity leave entitlements that have been afforded to male public sector workers effective January 1 of this year, there has instead been cynicism on the part of many. The grouse seems to be that in light of the high rate of paternity fraud, we ought not to be pushing for paternity leave.

PATERNITY FRAUD

Though largely unquantified, there is no denying that Jamaica’s rate of paternity fraud is high enough to be of concern. Where the cynics have lost their way is in suggesting that in order for paternity leave to have taken effect, arrangements for mandatory paternity testing should have been put in place, as well. It is a struggle finding the connection between the two. Paternity leave should be afforded to men who have the intention to father a child. Such men might or might not be biological fathers.

An incident was recounted to me some years ago, of a working man who fell asleep behind the steering wheel while driving to work on the Linstead Bypass. He slammed into a stationary truck and died on the spot. As it turned out, he had stayed up the night before, tending to his sick baby while the mother who was also tired got some sleep. It is heart-rending stories like these that necessitated the introduction of paternity leave. Whether or not this man was the biological father of the child is irrelevant, since that does not change the fact that he was actively caring for the child and clearly needed time off from work.

It is men who are committed to playing the role of fathers who should be afforded paternity leave, not merely sperm donors. Some registered fathers will not be biological fathers and some biological fathers will not be registered as fathers. However, once a man is registered as the father of a child (which cannot be done without his consent), he should be entitled to paternity leave. Thankfully, this is what now prevails under the amendments to the Public Sector Staff Orders.

SPEND TIME

Paternity leave affords fathers the opportunity to spend time with their newborns and also provides them with the privilege of supporting the mother of their child during what is often a sensitive and difficult period. A father does not support the mother of his newborn simply because he likes her or is in love with her, but because he recognises that this is what is in the best interest of his child, whom he has a responsibility to. With that said, the granting of a paternity leave entitlement to public sector workers was a fantastic step for the government to have taken.

Now, notwithstanding the fact that the issue of paternity testing is absolutely separate, paternity testing should become available for all men looking for answers. It is unclear whether or not the government will be able to afford paternity testing for all fathers anytime within the near future, but it would be a good undertaking. Truth matters, generally. And it would be good if the truth could be afforded free of cost to questioning fathers, their supposed children and the mothers of those children.

Truth, in matters of paternity, also helps establish accountability. Unfortunately, many men who recycle the argument that they need a paternity test in order to assume their role as father, never do take the initiative of doing a paternity test. Instead, it is often easier for them to spend the next 18 years complaining about how much they don’t trust women and how 70 per cent of children are ‘jackets’. Meanwhile another child grows up without a father and another mother struggles to be mother and father to their child(ren).

With that said, it would be good if paternity testing could be made available for all interested fathers. Paternity testing does not need to be mandatory. It simply needs to be available for all fathers who need or desire confirmation. Then, we can finally start holding more biological fathers accountable to their parental responsibilities, without hearing lame excuses.

Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Send feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com.