KINGSTON — The mandatory registration of fathers on children's birth certificates has been an outstanding issue since the 1970s, although attempts have been made throughout the years to address the matter, including expanding the provisions for the registration of fathers.
These efforts include: the 1976 introduction of a companion measure to the Status of Children Act to expand the categories of persons to include such persons as midwives and school principals, before whom a declaration (of paternity) may be made; and the 1980 amendment of the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act, widening the scope for registering the father of a child born out of wedlock.
More recent efforts include the recommendation of a Joint Select Committee of Parliament that was established to examine the National Registration Bill, to amend the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act, to allow for the compulsory registration of fathers.
This recommendation resulted from a number of submissions to the Human Resource Council and the Cabinet since 2005.
As a result, the Cabinet in May, 2011, approved the issuing of drafting instructions to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to facilitate amendments to the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act 1881.
The amendments will provide for the inclusion of the names of unmarried fathers in the registration of births.
The proposed amendments would also provide that every child should be registered and that the father is named at the time of registration. Should the mother be unable to declare the father’s name, she would have to provide the reason for this on the appropriate section of the relevant form. Penalties will also be included for misrepresentation or refusal of the mother to name the father.
In an interview with JIS News, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Registrar General’s Department, Dr. Patricia Holness, said the amendments, if passed, will give the RGD “more work” to do in the initial stages.
“We have examined other countries where this initiative has worked. Most mothers are aware of who the father of their child is. Right now, over 82 per cent of the fathers are complying without coercion,” Dr. Holness says.
She tells JIS News that if the RGD makes birth registration “a little more comfortable,” then more fathers will be willing to perform their civil act of placing their names on their child’s birth certificate.
"We found that the fathers in Jamaica are not as irresponsible as they are deemed to be. It is that we have not made it convenient for them to perform the civil act. So, we found that once we made it convenient, up went the percentage of fathers who added their particulars. We did an analysis and it showed that fathers who worked on ships, fishermen, persons who work in Canada and the United States as farm workers, 90 per cent of all the fathers who did not appear are within these areas," she adds.
Dr. Holness further notes that there is not any resistance from fathers to have their particulars recorded on their child's birth certificate. However, she says there are a few who may have been promiscuous who would really have a challenge.
Meanwhile, with the implementation of the RGD's bedside registration programme, there has been an improvement in the number of births and fathers’ information being recorded.
The initiative, which aims to not only increase the number of birth registrations, but address the issue of fathers’ information being recorded on their children’s birth certificates, was implemented in 2007.
Figures for the financial year 2010/11 indicate that a total of 38,005 births have occurred. The data further indicate that 100 per cent of these births were registered and 72 per cent of fathers added their particulars at the time of registration, which has increased from under 30 per cent prior to bedside registration at January 2007. Since June 2011, fathers’ particulars have increased to 82 per cent.
Meanwhile, Dr. Holness emphasises the importance of each child having a birth certificate.
"The purpose of a child having a birth certificate is to access social services in Jamaica, to be able to access education, to obtain a passport and for future life, to able to be a part of the system in ensuring that pension and other social benefits are forth-coming,” she says.
For his part, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative to Jamaica, Robert Fuderich, says that many Jamaican children are growing up without birth certificates, either because their births are not registered, or their parents have not obtained their birth certificates.
"What this means is that too many Jamaican children are losing out on one of their fundamental human rights. Every child has a right to birth registration. This is stated in Article Seven on the Conventions of the Rights of the Child (CRC). When Jamaica ratified the CRC in 1991, the country obligated itself to ensure that all children are registered immediately after birth,” Mr. Fuderich says.
He points out that without birth registration a child has no legal identity and hence children cannot fully exercise their civil, political, economic and social rights.
Mr. Fuderich commended the RGD for making significant strides since the implementation of the bedside registration programme in public and private hospitals as well as birthing centres.
"Birth registration has resulted in approximately 99 per cent of parents receiving free first birth certificates when their newborn child is registered at beside with a name. That was an example of a great policy decision that has great impact,” the UNICEF Representative says.
Since the introduction of the bedside registration programme, a total of 151,469 certificates were printed up to August 2011.
The RGD plays a key role in national development as it is the only organisation in Jamaica which is responsible for registering the vital events of births, fetal deaths, marriages and deaths.
By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter