A role for the state in parenthood

The state is the third party holding responsibility to a Barbadian child, and should be made to pay its share of a DNA test, when a woman takes a man to court claiming he fathered her child, but the man denies.

This type of state responsibility is what child advocate, Faith Marshall-Harris, believes should be inserted and spelt out in the Laws of Barbados in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),
which this country was ahead of most Caribbean territories in ratifying.

But the UNICEF Children’s Champion in Barbados goes further, arguing that the contending mother must also bear costs for a DNA test of the accused man.

Marshall-Harris’ position on DNA costs and her argument that a 2014 amendment to the law on DNA testing making the male only responsible for payment, should be further amended to include the mother and the state, formed part of her presentation on provisions needed in Barbados law books to give rights to the child as set out in the CRC.

Unicef Children’s Champion Faith Marshall-Harris.
Unicef Children’s Champion Faith Marshall-Harris.
Some members of the select audience.
Some members of the select audience.

The child advocate listed and discussed a wide range of matters concerning the rights and entitlements of children which are not adequately addressed in the island’s law books.

She told a select group of persons invited  to hear her “call to arms” Saturday at the Frank Collymore Hall, that as Barbados enters the second 50 years of Independence, it is  time to ask what did the first half-century mean for children, and what should be their future.

“Did our notions of child development equal other aspects of development? Did we enact the reform necessary as we did in other spheres during the past 50 years?

“Have we recognized that we need to ensure that the next 50 years are equally worthy of celebration by the children of today?”

She told her audience, including members of civil society with a common interest in the welfare of children, that she wants them to join her in “a cultural revolution to dramatically improve what happens to our children”.

Part of that cultural revolution, which she made clear must not be mistaken with the type advocated in totalitarian regimes, involves the state and mothers joining the accused man in ownership of costs for a paternity test.

“Paternity testing by DNA test is 99.1 per cent accurate, and this ends all speculation,” she said, expressing a ‘difficulty’ in understanding why, “it is still not yet mandated by the Family Law Act”.

The family law consultant, and former magistrate, said, “In addition, the legislation does not expressly rule out paternity testing by trial. And it is recommended that this should now be done since trial is humiliating for the parties involved, and really proves little. It’s all about he said, and she said, and he did, and she did, and it really does not settle the question”.

Marshall-Harris called for regulations on the cost of DNA testing, because “it is presently $1,000 per child and usually men bear this cost.

“But given that there is no other method of discovering the information, I suggest that the cost should be shared, with judicial officers having the capacity to vary, only where hardship would result.”

The former magistrate said that paternity disputes often arise because of aspects of the social life of the parents in which often misleading information gets to the father, leading him to believe he has a ‘jacket’, or someone else’s child.

But the dispute also arises from statements of the mother, she said.

 “Women too are somewhat to blame as when they get angry because of a lack of child support, they make taunts, such as ‘the child isn’t even yours’.

“Based on this, many men come to court to protest paternity, sometimes only to delay the inevitable order for payment of child support.”

While stating that Barbados laws need to bring children more into focus, Marshall-Harris noted that many rights consistent with CRC are already in the Barbados 1966 Constitution.

For this reason, she said, the CRC was not forced on Barbados. “It follows naturally from our Constitution, and in such a way [that] it seeks to protect especially vulnerable groups in our society.”

But she said that after ratifying CRC, “we lost the plot a little. We did not incorporate CRC into domestic law”.

She pointed out that, “while many principles of the CRC are practised in our courts and can be found in diverse pieces of legislation, we have failed to create a comprehensive body of law to give full expression to the CRC.

“I have recommended that we pass a comprehensive Children and Young Persons Act, which would embody all principles of CRC and bring all our child laws into one omnibus piece of legislation.”

But in recognition that getting to that comprehensive piece of legislation would take some time, Marshall-Harris said that in the meantime Barbados should “amend the individual acts until such time that we can pass the comprehensive Children and Young Persons Act”.

4 Responses to A role for the state in parenthood

  1. Hal Austin December 6, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    This report, if accurate, raises a number of important issues. But first, it must be stated that Barbados badly needs a family court, sitting in private, in order to prevent the scandal of the Rasta home schooling judicial theatre which we had recently.
    Protecting the children from ridicule and contempt must be the court’s primary responsibility.
    However, to return to the substantive matter, why should the state have powers to intervene in to domestic affairs, including ordering a DNA test for the alleged father, unless there are other compelling reasons, including lack of parental financial support?
    Modern government is about restricting the intervention of the state in domestic matters, rather than extend the hidden hand of state control.
    As Francis Bacon said those many years ago, revenge is a kind of wild justice, and none wilder than that tinged with moral outrage.
    There are two important points here: first, only a certain sector of society will routinely come before the courts: young men and women, with limited education, sometimes unemployed and unemployable.
    Will the state accept responsibility for the social deprivation of these people? Why should unmarried young people (and the majority will be unmarried) have state-imposed punishments on them that are not imposed on married couples.
    There is Case law that supports the view that as children mature they take more responsibility for their own welfare (see also the British Labour Party: Parenting, a discussion paper, 1996; and the Home Office: No More Excuses – A New Approach to Tackling Youth Crime in England and Wales, HMSO 1997).
    We also had under the Tony Blair Labour Government new legislation, The Crime and Disorder Bill, under which courts were given powers to impose parenting orders.
    So, ascribing parental responsibility for young offenders may satisfy a certain moral outrage, but it has its flaws.
    We also need to scrutinise how young women become pregnant, and this is not to blame the women.
    Since the early 1960s, and the discovery of the pill, birth control has been readily available. And, of course, in these days of HIV/Aids, men have a responsibility to protect themselves when having sex with new partners.
    We also know that some people just like to have children for all their lovers, or claim that they are using protection when they are not. Should these be acceptable as reasonable excuses to deny parenthood? Or should the court and the wider society rightly say it was not the child’s fault?
    Conservative criminologists claim that the single most important influence on children are their parents.
    Yet, if parents are strict disciplinarians they can be brought before the courts, and if they are permissive, they can also be brought before the courts.
    Making moral speeches from a public podium is easy, but parenting is not.
    What is urgently required is that on registration both parents should be present; if not, the mother (and it is usually the mother) cannot later claim someone is the child’s father. As said, we also need a modern family court and we need more public debates on these pressing social issues.
    I will recommend to people that they read Edwards and Halpern’s “Parental Responsibility as an instrument of social policy”,
    Family Law , 1992.

    Reply
  2. Nikolaos Yarde
    Nikolaos Yarde December 6, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Ummmm no if a woman claims and the man denies then the woman should pay then if the man is the parent then he should refund the woman 50% of the cost and vice versa . govt is not responsible for this she crazy

    Reply
  3. jrsmith December 6, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Again all the pages, all the paragraphs , all the media coverage means nothing , all the conferences means nothing , all the talk, talk mean nothing …………………………
    If nothing is managed and enforced it gets us no where fast…….

    But what do you expect from a government , who cannot even see and understand the failed standards in Barbados is hurting the country’s economy…

    Reply
  4. ch December 6, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Let me break it down.
    The ” state” was not in the bed or back-seat with those parents when they had sex.
    The ” state” = taxpayers, many of whom take full responsibility for their own children and whose taxes support a health care system that provides family planning services, including temporary and permanent methods of contraception.
    The taxpayers also provide children’s homes for those unfortunate children who lack proper homes and parents and give them the opportunity to be adopted by loving families.
    Men who challenge paternity should pay the full cost because they put themselves in that position.
    Mothers are not the issue re DNA testing, but women need to stop being slack and set a standard for a man as a partner and a father. Just having male genitals is not enough.
    As a culture, we cannot continue to encourage individuals to choose reckless behavior and then make their choice the responsibility of someone else.
    Hard facts and hard decisions are required to serve the best interests of the child not the useless biological parents.

    Reply

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