Uncertainty surrounds law to identify men who impregnate underage girls
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck is not convinced that amendments to the Registration, Births and Deaths Act - making it compulsory for fathers' names to be added to birth certificates - will have the desired effect.
It has long been advocated that amendments be made to the act as a means of ensuring children know who their fathers are, as well as aid in the prosecution of men who have sex with and impregnate girls under the age of consent.
"It is going to be extremely difficult to enforce, because first of all, fathers are going to deny that they are the fathers and then to go through a process of DNA, and so on, it will be extremely difficult," Chuck told The Sunday Gleaner.
The minister further reasoned that mothers under the age of 16 may not want to name their children's fathers, so as not to incriminate them as having sex with a minor is a criminal offence.
"There would have to be a proactive approach from CISOCA (Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse) to really coordinate where, for instance, the father's name is attached to the birth of a child, and she is under 16, then it immediately shows up that the father should be prosecuted," Chuck said.
"It might be that the mother says a man is the father and he might very well deny it, and for the Crown to prove that he is the father may well demand a DNA test, and he may not consent to giving a DNA test. So it will be very challenging to prosecute a person based on the birth certificate."
He continued, "Sure, the law can be implemented where the father is reported on the birth certificate, but in terms of prosecuting there could be serious challenges."
HIGH TEENAGE PREGNANCY RATE
According to the most recent Reproductive Health Survey conducted in 2008, Jamaica had an adolescent pregnancy rate of 72 per 1,000 girls compared to a global average of 49 and a regional average of 65.
While the rate is thought to be trending down, it is still believed to be way too high, and head of CISOCA, Enid Ross-Stewart, said in the majority of the cases, the girls "protect the men with all they have" and hence, refuse to divulge their names.
It is for this very reason, opposition spokesman on education, the Reverend Ronald Thwaites, who has been advocating in Parliament for the mandatory naming of fathers for close to two decades, believes new legislation must be passed to make it mandatory.
In response to Thwaites in Parliament in May 2009, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding had said the legislation should be in place in another three months, but it never materialised. In May of this year, current Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton announced that the legislation was being prepared, while speaking at the official launch of the 'Good Health Begins at Home' initiative in Mandeville, Manchester.
"I acknowledge that you can't force the mother to give the name, but I don't believe that would defeat the benefit of legislation that would set out a high degree of responsibility to do so," Thwaites reasoned.
"It is not going to be perfect, but if there is a law that says it is mandatory for a man to acknowledge the birth of the child or the provision that he must undergo test to determine if there is a doubt, then I believe that will go a far way to induce responsibility."
SETTING THE TONE
Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison agrees with Chuck that there will be some amount of conundrum in terms of enforcement, but believes it is very important to at least set the tone.
"This is not going to be a foolproof solution at all; it can't be because you need persons to cooperate, but certainly, at least if it is there as a base it would tend to suggest to persons that this is the trust we are going with; this is what we are saying that you should do," Gordon Harrison said.
"And usually, when you have some kind of rule, you will have some persons complying and some persons who breach it, and certainly, I think because of how chronic our situation is, with a whole host of girls turning up at Victoria Jubilee who are below the age of consent and giving birth, then we need to at least see this as one in a number of responses that can perhaps give some assistance to the situation."
Hear the Children's Cry founder, Betty Ann Blaine, echoed the views of Thwaites and Gordon Harrison that in any case of sexual abuse of a minor, DNA testing should be mandatory.
"The law has to work and we have to make up our minds how it is going to work. You cannot be abusing a child and just get away with it; the most blatant thing is when you see the child pregnant," Blaine argued.
"If we are going to say we can't investigate these cases because the girls won't talk, then might as well we throw up our hands and say forget it then."