Baby father unknown - Underage girls refusing to say who got them pregnant
The fear that their partners will be charged with having sexual intercourse with a minor is causing many pregnant young girls to refuse to name the fathers of their children.
And even in the cases where the father of the child is also a minor, efforts to get the under-aged mother to name her sexual partner have been unsuccessful.
"The girls are giving us incorrect information on the babyfathers. Granted, sometimes they don't know the proper names and proper addresses and so on, but if they do, they are refusing to tell because they fear that some punitive action would be taken," said executive director of the Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF), Dr Zoe Simpson.
The WCJF operates a programme to prepare the pregnant girls and the young fathers for their roles, but in most instances, it is the pregnant girls alone who turn up seeking assistance.
"The programme, whereby we offer counselling to these young men, is not really meeting its targets and one of the reasons we are thinking is on account of the fact that people think we are going to be informing on them," said Simpson.
The organisation assists as many as 1,500 adolescent pregnant girls each year, to continue their secondary education and prepare for motherhood, but many of the girls are refusing to identify their child's father for fear that these men could be arrested.
Simpson said that for every 1,000 girls registered, for example, they are only able to make contact with about 150 of the fathers.
Some of the girls have also refrained from putting the name of the suspected father on their child's birth certificate.
father's name missing
According to the Registrar General Department (RGD), more than 26 per cent of the children born in Jamaica, last year, did not have their father's name on their birth certificate. It was a similar story in 2013, when 25 per cent of live births did not have the father's particulars.
Under the law, it is mandatory to report any suspected case of child abuse to the Children's Registry or other relevant authorities.
Sexual intercourse with a child under 16 years old is a criminal offence. In a report to Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, last year February, it was revealed that approximately half of the girls registered at the WCJF at the time were under 16 years old.
"We uphold the rules and the laws of the country. If we are asked for the information, we will give it and we say that to the parents and the girls when we do our intake interviews and so on, but that notwithstanding, the numbers (of males in programme) continue to remain below target and it is a serious concern of ours," said Simpson.
"We don't want the boys to be left behind, we want them to assume responsibility," added the executive director who suggested that many of the suspected fathers are also adolescents, based on their investigations.
The matter is also of concern for education minister Ronald Thwaites and Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison, who both believe that the child should always be the priority.
"I think mandatory reporting is, in fact, necessary because to remove it would perhaps lead to a floodgate of persons who are abusing children being basically pardoned because there is no obligation to report. It's a very delicate issue," said Gordon-Harrison.
"But I think we need to have separation, whereby those persons who are adults are, in fact, held accountable, but those who are younger, as in below 18, we need to take perhaps a different approach, whereby they are exempted from prosecution if it is that the sexual contact with the underage female occurred in what were consensual circumstances," argued Gordon-Harrison.
Thwaites, who has been very vocal in his calls for the mandatory inclusion of fathers' names on birth certificates, said he, too, is concerned, as he has witnessed the impact of high levels of absenteeism among fathers in his constituency and within the school system.
"Surely, it can't be beyond our imagination to think of other means of punishment which would encourage responsibility rather than induce flight," argued Thwaites.
"While I accept that there needs to be some sanction, it serves absolutely no purpose to lock up a father. How will that help the child?" the education minister asked.