Paternity Problems

A man gets onto a tap-tap and finds the man sitting next to him crying. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asks. ‘Oh, I have just found out that I am not the father of the two children I have with my wife. After all these years of caring for them!’

‘Ah, I’m sorry my friend’ he says ‘but let me tell you something worse. I knew when I married my wife that I could not have children. Then she fell pregnant and I decided not to say anything, but accepted the baby as my own. Then she fell pregnant again. I did not say anything. When the fourth child came along I turned to my wife and said “Cherie, please, give me a chance!”’

This was the discussion with some of my Haitian colleagues over lunchtime one day this week. A recent change in the law here will mean that single mothers can now pressure absent fathers into providing financial support to their children.

It seems like a great idea, but the discussion revealed several complicating factors. DNA testing provides proof of paternity, but is an expensive process. Yet the mere threat of asking for a paternity test might push some absent fathers into responding and taking responsibility for the child they have fathered. If they think there will be legal consequences to their actions, it might provoke a response.

However the informal economy in Haiti counts for almost 85% of employment, and therefore makes it difficult to enforce legislation such as this. It may even discourage some from seeking formal employment if they feel they would lose a percentage of their salary in child support.

It was interesting to see the discussion go from challenging infidelity (both men and women) to the question of law enforcement in a country where there is constant tension between the parliament and the president, and even the police are losing respect for government authority.

It seems to come down to a lack of trust; lack of trust in the government to have the authority to enforce legislation; a lack of trust in a spouse to remain faithful. When there is no support or mutual respect, suspicion and mistrust reign, and attitudes become self-seeking and individualistic. The lack of trust has broken down relationships at all levels of society.

This lack of trust has been something I have been reflecting on over this last week, particularly after the events on Monday (see post Mob Justice) where vigilante justice highlighted the deeper mistrust of the justice system in this country. When systems fail and politicians abuse power, people lose faith in the system and turn to their own means of justice.

I don’t even know how you would begin to tackle such a deep-seated level of mistrust in society. One can only hope that courageous leaders at all levels of society; parents, teachers, businessmen, politicians, would have the confidence to be upright and confident leaders who would challenge corruption and suspicion and become role models for others to build up a better society. Is this idealistic? Probably. Is it impossible? I hope not.

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