KINGSTON, Jamaica – There was a time when the act of a Jamaican woman dishonestly ascribing paternity of her child to an unsuspecting man was something to laugh about. But a recent study indicates that this is a widespread problem in Jamaica and can have serious implications.
Recent studies show that the number of Jamaican men on the receiving end of paternity fraud—or as Jamaicans say, “getting ‘jacket’”—at least once is on the rise. Dr. Herbert Gayle, leading Anthropologist at the University of the West Indies, revealed in a 2016 study that some 25 percent of Jamaican men are unknowingly raising children that are not biologically theirs. And while Jamaicans for decades have viewed this in a somewhat humorous way, the problem is no laughing matter.
In fact, it’s also a serious issue for men in the diaspora who are trying to petition to have their children join them in the United States, as in some cases, paternity testing is used to verify biological relationships. DNA testing required by the U.S. Embassy in Kingston often reveals embarrassing figures of the number of men who were deceived about children they believed were their own.
A 2019 report by Polygenics Consulting, a Jamaican which offers DNA testing, indicated that of all the paternity tests that the company has conducted since 2015, when it became operational, 70 percent were not the father. Polygenics Consulting told CNW, “persons who contact us have had some reason to doubt the paternity, and as such this statistic is based on that condition.” Additionally, the company confirmed that many of the tests they administer are for immigration purposes, but declined to provide a specific number.
While the 70 percent figure could be misleading in the national context—since it is related specifically to Polygenics Consulting’s data—it raises concerns about the level of deception between Jamaican partners and new parents. Not only do women use a “jacket” to their advantage, men have also begun to use the alarming “jacket” statistics as an excuse to become absentee fathers. When convinced that the child is a “jacket,” a man will refuse to care for a child while also refusing to take a paternity test.
Conversely, there are many instances in which a man finds out he is not the biological father after he has already begun to love, care for, and form an emotional bond with a child. This not only has a significant emotional impact on the man, but can have devastating effects on the child as well.
In recent years, an increasing number of Jamaican women have come forward, sharing that they have deliberately identified other men as their children’s fathers because of infidelity, relationship security or financial issues.
While Jamaicans may continue to see the humor in giving or getting “jacket,” the offence remains a serious matter in court. A woman who knowingly names the wrong man as her child’s father on the birth certificate is seen as committing a breach of the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act. For this offence, she can be charged and mandated to pay a fine not exceeding $250,000 or face imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, if found guilty.