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.
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”.