THE issue of women giving their children other men's names is certainly not new to Jamaica. For decades, possibly centuries, men have brought up other men's children under the guise that the children were biologically theirs. And the truth in these instances is not revealed until a DNA test is required, often in immigration cases when a father has started filing papers for a child to live abroad permanently.
At this stage, some fathers are hit with the painful reality that the children they have nurtured and loved as their own belong to other men.
Sometimes the mistake is a genuine one — a woman might honestly not know that she is wrong about her child's paternity. But more and more women have acknowledged in recent times that they deliberately identified other men as their children's fathers, and lied accordingly on the children's birth certificates.
Below are quotes from a few of the letters written to attorney Margarette Macaulay in the last several years in this publication — penned by women who have deliberately misled their children's fathers. They ask the question: How to rectify a messy situation that they realise later is legally binding?
“I have a 22-month-old son, and because his father said it wasn't his child, I had to give him someone else's name”; “I have a son who is seven years old. The child's biological father was never interested in him from I was pregnant... my son is not registered in his biological father's name but in the name of another person (a close friend); “I was dating two guys at one time in the period I got pregnant... the name on the birth certificate is not the right father”; “I have a daughter... when she was born I registered her in another man's name, because her dad, who is living in America, was verbally abusive and showed no interest in her”.
A person who knowingly gives a child the wrong name is breaking the law, and has committed a breach of the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act. This is an offence for which they can be charged and may have to pay a fine if found guilty. Section 19b(a) of the Act states that any person who wilfully gives to the Registrar any information which that person knows to be false shall be guilty of an offence and liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $250,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.
As such, women caught in this position have to take legal steps to have the error corrected, and face possible jail time.
The Status of Children Act provides that if in conjunction with the provisions of Section 19 of the Registration of (Births and Deaths) Act the name of the father of the child has been entered in the Register of Births, then a certified copy of the entry is prima facie evidence that the person named as the father is the legal father of the child. The father who is named on the register is the father for all intents and purposes until the entry is corrected by a court's declaration of paternity that another man is in fact the father of the child. This request for a declaration has to be made to the court by the biological father or mother or adult child, and in the course of a proceeding the court may give directions for DNA tests to be done to prove paternity.
In the event that no father was entered in the Register, another option is also covered under the Act.
There is a provision that at any time after the registration of the birth of a child, if a father's name was not registered, the father and mother can do a joint statutory declaration in which they both acknowledge the fact of their parentage and apply for the father's name to be entered as such.
Litrow Hickson, associate at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon, told All Woman that the registration of the birth of a child is governed by the provisions of the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act, and if the parents are married, it is the duty of the father and mother to register the birth of the child. If the parents of a child are not married at the time of the child's birth and were not married at or since the time of its conception, the Act provides mechanisms for the mother and the man acknowledging himself as the father to jointly register his name as the father of the child.
“In addition to those modes of registration, the Act also provides that the mother of the child may provide a declaration, signed by her, naming some person as the father of the child. In these instances, the Registrar can register the name of the person named as father only if satisfied that the person named has been served with a notice and he has admitted or has not denied that he is the father within three months of receiving the notice,” he said.
Hickson pointed out that where a person is named as the father, he may file a counter notice with the Registrar within three months of being served, denying that he is the father of the child, which would mean that the Registrar is prohibited from registering his name as the father of the child.
“He may also file an application in court requesting that his name be removed from the register. The court would only grant this order if satisfied that it is reasonable to do so, and either (a) false information was given by the mother (or some other person); or (b) the notice that he was named as the father did not come to his attention; or (c) having regard to the circumstances, the three-month period was inadequate for him to file a counter notice.”
Although the wilful registration of the wrong person as father is unlawful, Hickson could not confirm whether anyone has been brought before the court to answer such an accusation.