Attorney appeals for equity in laws concerning fatherhood

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By Kadeem Joseph

An attorney-at-law is issuing a strong call for the revision of laws to allow fathers to play a greater role in lives of their children.

In explaining his appeal, Roland Moore said many of the laws reflect the era of enslavement and plantation society that then existed, where-in, black men were not ‘bred’, nor were they expected, to be fathers to their children, but instead they were “bred to be labour on the plantation and to produce more slaves”.

He added, “it is the view of some that this legislation would have also ensured that … men didn’t have rights to their children.”

Moore explained further that the ‘ownership’ of the child under those laws would be traced through their mother, as, generally, it was her owner who held title to the children the woman produced.

He added further that in most cases an enslaved woman was expected to produce children frequently, children who were not necessarily fathered by the same man.

Moore said that the wholesale acceptance of laws passed in Britain at the time, which applied differing rules to married men, who are vested with greater parental rights as opposed to unmarried men, still impact the society today.

The lawyer further explained that unmarried men were in the minority in Britain, whereas the grouping was in the majority in Antigua and Barbuda and other islands in the region where birth within marriage was still not commonplace in these societies.

“Did you know that even up to today, the unmarried father of a child in Antigua and Barbuda has no right to name his child?” he queried, noting that such a decision is left to the child’s mother notwithstanding the father’s level of involvement prenatally.

Moore said these laws and regulations could lead to fathers being excluded from many significant aspects of their child’s life and are exacerbated in instances where there are personal conflicts between both parents.

Another area of concern he highlighted was that an unmarried man cannot be listed as the father of a child on a birth certificate without the consent of the child’s mother.

“If it is that the mother doesn’t give consent, the only other option that he has to put his name on the birth certificate is to spend almost EC $4,000 to do a High Court paternity application to put his name on the birth certificate of his child,” Moore explained.

These laws and regulations, which the attorney regards as “archaic”, form part of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1881. While the Act has only been repealed within the last year, the provisions regarding the rights of unmarried fathers remain largely unaltered. .

Moore said that the aforementioned matters are even more concerning with a 2002 UNICEF study showing that in the Caribbean 85 per cent of children are born out of wedlock, whereas the United Kingdom recently registered at about 40 per cent.

“This is something that has been happening for years and I guess nobody stopped and looked and questioned if you take laws from one country … if you take them wholesale and just drop them in another country, the implications that it would have,” he explained.

The attorney believes the law’s approach to the custody of a child, which often is vested in mothers, should also be addressed.

“I know of many good men, who, and I make no apologies for this, would make way better parents and custodians for their children than the mothers,” he said, adding that the present configuration of the laws would mean that a father would have to put up a major fight to gain custody of the child even though it is acknowledged that his environment would be more conducive to the child’s development.

Moore said while fathers are excluded in these instances, they are not absolved from the pursuit, by the mothers, for maintenance payments.

The attorney is hopeful that these issues will be addressed so that parenthood would become “more equitable” and reflect what is in the best interest of the child.

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