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Level playing field for out-of-wedlock kids

By Raymond Hainey, GazetteNET News, Saturday 12 February 2000

Bermuda, February 12, 2000 - MPs yesterday backed a new law aimed at giving children born outside marriage with just one Bermudian parent a chance to live and work on the Island.

But Home Affairs and Public Safety Minister Paula Cox stressed that Bermuda was not opening the floodgates to a rush of applications and that rules would be put in place to avoid abuse of the system.

And she told the House of Assembly: "The impetus behind this bill...is the movement away from the stigmatisation of children who are born out-of-wedlock - whether of putative fathers or unwed mothers."

But she added: "It's important to note that the bill contains checks and balances.

"There is a need not just to look at the spreading of the seed of males but there are some clear requirements.

"The man must hold himself out as the father of the child while the child is still a minor.

"He must demonstrate his commitment to the welfare of the child by receiving the child into his home or, if that is not practicable, by providing maintenance and support and otherwise being actively involved in the overall development and upbringing of the child." Ms Cox added that the bill also moved away from Commonwealth citizenship as a necessity for a child to be treated as Bermudian - which would cover relationships where one parent is an American or from the Republic of Ireland.

She said: "Those persons who, but for the fact that they are not Commonwealth citizens would be, or deemed to be, Bermudian will welcome this amendment. Being deemed to be Bermudian allows such persons to enter Bermuda, obtain employment and reside in Bermuda freely."

And she added - under these circumstances - there would be no problem in meeting the five-year residence qualification for naturalisation and the acquisition of a Bermudian/UK passport.

But non-Commonwealth Bermuda status holders will not be allowed to vote or sit in Parliament.

Under current legislation, if a child is born out-of-wedlock to a Bermudian parent and is not already Bermudian from birth, then the youngster is not Bermudian and can never apply for status.

Ms Cox said - so far - the Immigration Department had received just six inquiries from people who may be affected by the immigration amendment Act, although she said she expected that figure to rise, but not to major proportions.

Opposition Legislative Affairs spokesman John Barritt said that his party when in power had begun to examine the same issue before the General Election victory for Government.

And he asked if there were any statistics on how many people may become eligible for Bermuda status under the new law.

He added: "I think what we're doing is opening up the process in order to make Bermuda status available to more people should they wish that."

But he questioned the rules on a father's involvement in the life of the child and said a youngster should not be "punished" for the lack of interest of a parent.

And he pointed out that a father - through no fault of theirs - might not be made aware that they were a parent until "quite late on", and added there had been similar examples in the past.

He added, however, that the move could also lead to applications for work permits in the case where one parent is Bermudian and a resident and an overseas parent wanted to take part "in the upbringing of their child."

Mr. Barritt - a lawyer - conceded that immigration law was a complex area and said that many in the House probably did not understand the bill fully.

He said: "It might be good to publish some guidance, even in the case of the Immigration Act itself. It would be very helpful for people to know their rights under the Immigration Act."

And he called for the provisions of the new law to be put "in clear terms" so "people can understand it."

Under the new law, a child born out-of-wedlock to a Bermudian parent can get status if;

  • That parent is the mother and the child was born in Bermuda;
  • That parent is the mother whose home is Bermuda and the child is a Commonwealth citizen at birth;
  • That parent is the father and the child's natural parents marry - making the child legitimate. Provided the child is a Commonwealth citizen, the child will be either Bermudian, or deemed to be Bermudian, from the date of the parents' marriage or:
  • That parent adopts the child so that it becomes deemed to possess Bermudian status. The child can later apply for status in its own right.

Opposition Whip Cole Simons questioned the "domicile" requirement in the Act - and asked what his daughter's position would be if she was to marry an African, move there and have a child.

He said: "If one of the parents is not domiciled in Africa, that child cannot be Bermudian."

Opposition leader Pamela Gordon pointed out that the country was trying to encourage parental responsibility.

She said: "Maybe a provision should be put in the Act that, when a man is born or deemed to be Bermudian acknowledges a child, that it also be tied into the responsibility of child support and looking after their children.

"That will help to solve a few problems - we recognise that many men are not acknowledging their children and if they do so, we have a piece of legislation which assists them in being responsible."

Summing up, Ms Cox said: "Issues will not always be addressed by the waving of a magic wand. There are anomalies."

And she said there were other immigration matters which needed to be dealt with - including the upcoming discussion paper on the plight of long-term residents who have not acquired status or security of work and residence.

She added afterwards: "If people are in doubt about their rights, they should ask.

"Too often in the past, sometimes even when we're dealing with applications, people have, through inadvertence, fallen through the gaps because they were unaware.

"It doesn't make sense giving people rights they don't know they have. It's a sense of doing the right thing - you take a risk, but it's in a good cause."

Copyright by The Royal Gazette Ltd