THE FAMED anthropologist Bronislaw Malin-owski considered the principle of legitimacy a universal sociological law. The crucial determinant of legitimacy in his view was the male’s public commitment to his child’s mother, not the widely varying concept of legality. So let’s dispose of the ‘out of wedlock’ red herring immediately. What matters is not a piece of paper, but the father’s willingness to give emotional and material support to his offspring.
The general societal rule, Malinowski found, was that no child should be brought into the world without an acknowledging father to act as the custodial male link between child and community.
But with more than half our children having no registered fathers, Jamaica appears an exception to this rule. Many of our ‘fathers’ are mere sperm donors who boast of the number of their children but contribute nothing to their welfare. A few years back I heard a deejay named Million Teeth laughingly attribute his name to his ’nuff pickney’. Some men don’t know even how many children they have sired, much less their names.
No other country has over 85 per cent of babies born to unmarried mothers and over 50 per cent without registered fathers. No other country routinely discusses parenthood in such relationship neutral terms as ‘baby father’ and ‘baby mother’. No other country so readily accepts absent fatherhood or brings up children so carelessly.
In Life Without Father David Popenoe found the relationship between family structure and crime to be so strong that it erases the relationship between race and low income and crime. Two-parent white and black and rich and poor offspring have far lower incarceration rates than their fatherless peers. But because there are so many more poor and black single-parent children, these make up the bulk of those in U.S. prisons. No doubt the dynamics are the same in Jamaica.
Most fatherless children grow up to be well-adjusted individuals, and only a small percentage become criminals. But almost anything bad that can happen to children occurs with much greater frequency to those from single-parent homes. Nor does fatherlessness affect only children. For men with no family involvement are far more prone to violence than those in settled relationships.
Any society with large concentrations of young, unattached males asks for and gets chaos – two prominent examples being the 19th century American west and the 21st century inner-city ghetto.
All of which boils down to this: If the majority of fathers supported their offspring psychologically and financially, Jamaica would have a much lower murder rate.
The right technological laws and equipment including DNA, fingerprint and ballistic testing would almost certainly cut the homicide count sharply. Yet, even if halved, our murder rate would still be over five times America’s and over 10 times Britain’s. Until our social structure changes, this country will continue indefinitely to have one of the world’s highest homicide levels.
Well thought out and effectively applied laws can change national behaviour. A couple years back, few in Jamaica obeyed speed limits or wore seat belts, including myself. But three $6,000 speeding fines and three seat belt tickets in a month changed my views. I now buckle up and slow down at speed limit signs. And it’s not just me. A lot more people are definitely wearing seatbelts these days.
If the law can get Jamaicans to drive more carefully, it can also make them more judicious about procreation. Penalising people severely for recklessly driving cars has significantly reduced the road death rate. So why shouldn’t punishing men for carelessly depositing sperm cut the fatherless rate? It’s time to license the Jamaican penis.
The sex life of consenting adults is nobody’s business but their own. But actions have predictable consequences. If your only interest is intercourse, well use a condom or be prepared to accept all possible results of your carelessness.
So my proposal is a law requiring the father’s name and TRN to be put on every birth certificate. If the man named by the mother disputes paternity, the court can order DNA testing. If the man refuses, he is recorded as the legal father. This will make males accountable while eliminating ‘jackets’.
Chile adopted these measures in 2005 so as to ‘strengthen families, force men to face up to their responsibilities, and help ensure women do not have to raise children on their own without financial support.’ See link
MAKE PATERNITY LAW RETROACTIVE
If it’s good enough for Chile, where ‘only’ half the children are born outside marriage and ‘only’ 10 per cent do not have a legally recognised father, it’s good enough for Jamaica. Incidentally, it was recently proposed in France that all dogs be DNA tested. Does France care more about dogs than Jamaica cares about people?
Ideally, this paternity law should be made retroactive for every child now under 18, since better a late comer father than none. It would also increase convictions for carnal abuse, a crime too often now swept under the carpet or ‘bought off’ or worse.
A few years back a pregnant underage old school girl was found dead by foul play. The evidence was not strong enough for a murder conviction. But the accused was also suspected of having impregnated the girl and thus being guilty of carnal abuse. Yet the law did not allow the judge to order the man’s DNA to be matched against the dead unborn child’s. This legal loophole must be closed.
While on the topic, it’s also high time to make it a capital offence for anyone who is HIV-positive to knowingly infect others. A doctor friend with intimate knowledge of the AIDS situation says many men get a revenge mentality when diagnosed as HIV-positive and try to infect as many women as possible. In effect, their penises become murder weapons, and the law must stop them from killing.
Now men are hardly the sole source of our fatherless problem. There are stories of coercion by inner-city dons, but few of the men who boast of having 10 children when they can’t even support themselves raped their baby mothers. Only naïve foreigners lament about ‘poor women’ being taken ‘advantage of’ by ‘worthless men’. We all know there are females who deliberately refuse to put a registered father on the birth certificate because they are collecting child support from half a dozen men who all imagine they are the biological father.
No, Jamaican women are just as guilty as the men for the current family breakdown. A forced paternity bill should be accompanied with education programmes. And the law should also address the issue of men who want to be responsible fathers – we are not all dogs – but are prevented from even seeing their children by selfish or vengeful mothers.
LEGAL POWER FOR WOMEN
But the vicious circle must be broken somewhere. And giving legal power to women who want the father to play a role in their children’s lives is at least a start. At the very minimum, those well-to-do men who seduce and impregnate impressionable young girls would be forced to play at least a financial role in their offspring’s life.
We also need stiffened child support laws, for males who can afford it owe the fruit of their loins more than monthly pittances. Can there be anything more unconscionable than men driving around in Escalades and BMW X5s while their own flesh and blood go hungry and unschooled? Mek dem sell de damn criss car an mind dem pickney!
Forced paternity laws had no chance of passing while men dominated the Jamaican legislature. For this country’s current social set up is a paradise for well-off males with no scruples. There are hordes of single-parent young girls out there whose mothers can’t support them and who are desperately seeking a father figure to give them the parental male love they never knew. Jamaican men of means can have as many young girls as they want or can afford. And why would they want this situation to change? ‘More gal’ is to them a sign of progress.
IMMENSE POLITICAL CAPITAL
But Sista P ‘get de ting now’ and is ‘woman time’. And it’s on bettering the lot of women and children that she should focus her immense political capital. ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’
Now it’s possible that male Parliamentarians who have ‘outside babies’ they are not supporting might oppose such a bill. But more women vote than men. And they would surely turf out any MP who opposed a law requiring fathers to support their offspring.
Mrs. Simpson Miller, you have the power. We hope you have the will.
Written by Kevin O’Brien Chang
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