Int'l Men's Day 2019 | Paternity leave ‘not for idling’ - Advocates say time-off benefits mothers, children more
The Jamaica Male Advancement Network is urging the Government to endorse paternity leave, which will allow men to provide moral and physical support for their spouses in the weeks following the birth of their children.
The issue has been a point of debate for several months, and while some private-sector companies have led the way in allowing fathers paid paternity leave, the Government has not pushed legislation enshrining that right.
Speaking at a Gleaner Men’s Forum last week, members of the cross-denominational male advocacy group said that such a move would help to destroy the myth that most Jamaican fathers were deadbeat dads.
Professor Brendan Bain, co-chair of Man Up Jamaica (MANUJAM), said that now more than ever, there is a need for men to play a greater role in raising their children.
“Fathers are necessary, even though mothers have played a great role. I think it’s a message of inclusion for men. The presence of the man gives her a lot of support,” Bain said.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has stated his opposition to a wholesale move to grant paternity leave and said it should only be given to men who live with, or are married to, their spouses.
But the Reverend Jason Downer is adamant that paternity leave does more to help the mother recuperate from conditions such as postpartum depression and must be unconditional.
“Paternity leave is not for the dad. It’s for the mother and child,” said Downer, who represents Men of God Against Violence and Abuse. “Men, too, need it because it helps the mother in recovering. We need to take this thing out of our heads that paternity leave is for idling.”
Dr Michael Coombs, who is also a member of MANUJAM, called on the Church to throw its support behind the push for a wider acceptance of paternity leave.
“I couldn’t but say the Church should support paternity leave,” he said. “It is a matter of justice.”
Telecommunications company FLOW and cigarette traders Carreras are among private-sector companies that have taken the lead in granting paternity leave. The move was lauded by Pastor Michael McAnuff-Jones, who heads the Mentoring a Nation initiative.
“The private sector is moving in the direction of paternity leave. The challenge is how to prevent abuse [of the system],” he said.
For decades, Jamaican men have been wary of some women who bear children and commit paternity fraud. A recent study by one facility that conducts DNA paternity testing has found that a significant number of women are naming the wrong men as their children’s father. In some cases, it has led to children being refused entry into other jurisdictions and left them struggling to find an identity and suffering from low self-esteem.
It has also been shown to have a profound negative effect on men, who feel cheated and shafted by the act.
This was a sore point for the Reverend Dr Gordon Cowans, moderator of the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, who says women should be punished under law for knowingly committing paternity fraud.
“There needs to be a penalty for paternity fraud. The system does not allow for the right of the child. We need laws to allow children to have their mothers name their fathers and we protect men by making it a crime to wrongfully name a father,” he said.