Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Bastards are still around; PNP's boast incorrect

Published:Sunday | September 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Shena Stubbs-Gibson

A few weeks ago, I wrote on a recent immigration decision coming out of the United States, which relied heavily on the status of illegitimacy still being recognised in Jamaica.

My muse, while I was expressing alarm at the notion of illegitimacy still being on the law books, pointed out to me that the status of illegitimacy still being recognised in Jamaica ran contrary to a very popular 1970s song, which claimed "nuh bastard nuh deh again". I decided to look up the song on YouTube.

The song in question is, in fact, called The Message, and is written by Neville Martin. It was sung in 1976 and according to one source, it was released 14 days before the December 14, 1976 general election. It reportedly sold 30,000 copies in Jamaica and was credited with changing the mood at a time when Michael Manley was behind in the polls.

The song remains popular at People's National Party (PNP) rallies even today, and having listened to the song on YouTube, I can see why. I was listening for the reference to bastards, but found myself nodding my head to the catchy rhythm and lyrics - albeit quite lengthy. I have set out some of the lyrics below for younger readers:

"My father born ya

My father born ya

My grandmother born ya

My grandmother born ya

I and I born ya

I and I born ya

My leader born ya

My leader born ya

No bastard nuh deh again

No bastard nuh deh again

Everyone lawful

Everyone lawful"

The lyrics, 40 years later, in my view, present a minefield for students of politics, history and sociology. The lyrics of this one song aptly canonise the Manley legacy and the extent to which the 'progresses' referred to in the lyrics above evolved over the last four decades or slowly withered into obscurity, and could be argued to symbolise the success and/or failure of that legacy.

Yet, while I feel myself being pulled into a sociopolitical analysis of the Manley legacy, I will resist the pull on this occasion and focus instead on the stanza which launched all of this in the first place, stanza 8: "... Nuh bastard nuh deh again, Everyone lawful ... "

 

MIGRATED AMINOR

 

In the February 2015 decision coming out of the US referred to at the start of this column, Oshane Cross, who had been ordered to be removed from America, challenged the order on the basis that he was a US citizen, having lawfully migrated to that country to his biological father while he was still a minor.

The answer to whether Cross was to be deemed to have acquired US citizenship automatically eventually boiled down to whether he was to be regarded as being 'legitimate' under Jamaican law.

Relying on the current Legitimation Act of Jamaica, the judge at first instance had concluded that Cross was 'illegitimate', given that he had neither been born in wedlock nor had his parents wedded while he was a minor.

It is instructive to note the provision of The Legitimation Act of Jamaica, which the US tribunal would have relied on, namely, Section 2, which provides as follows: "Any child born before the marriage of his or her parents, whose parents have intermarried or shall hereafter intermarry, shall be deemed on the marriage of such parents to have been legitimated as from the date of such marriage and shall be entitled to all the rights of a child born in wedlock."

As such, under the current laws of Jamaica, a child born out of wedlock is not deemed 'legitimate' unless that child's parents marry while the child remains a minor.

Fortunately for Cross, his appeal to the Immigration Board Tribunal was successful as it decided to reverse the approach it had taken in similar cases and which would have formed the basis for the judge at first-instance ruling.

Having fully explored the rationale for the reversal in my first column on the decision, I will not proceed any further with that, suffice it to stress that the status of illegitimacy is alive and hearty in Jamaica, even if only in name.

Neville Martin got it wrong. Everybody nuh lawful. He who was 'unlawful' before the Status of Children Act (SCA) was passed in 1976 remains very much so in 2015.

 

STILL TWO CATEGORIES

 

Mind you, the Manley administration did, through the vehicle of the SCA, eradicate the legal differences which existed between lawful and unlawful children in Jamaica more or less. What the SCA did not achieve, however, was the abolition of the two categories of children: 'legitimate' and 'illegitimate'.

Granted, since the passage of the SCA, the continued legal existence of the two categories of children in Jamaica has meant virtually nothing, and this may have contributed to the popular view that the status of illegitimacy was abolished in 1976.

Nevertheless, outside of Jamaica, the continued existence of the Legitimation Act on Jamaica's law books has oftentimes resulted in prejudice to Jamaicans, especially in immigration cases where citizenship issues often turn on the legitimacy of petitioners under the laws of their own jurisdictions.

It is clear, therefore, that not only did Neville Martin not get it right in the '70s when he sang "everyone lawful", but so have thousands of Jamaican over the past four decades, who have credited Manley with an acclaim that he was not entirely worthy of. Here again is another legislation on our law books whose time has passed. "Off with its head," I say.

- Shena Stubbs is an attorney-at-law and legal commentator Send feedback to shena.stubbs@gleanerjm.com Twitter:@shenastubbs.