Who’s Your Daddy?

Yesterday, Joan Burton, the minister for Social Protection said that she was proposing a new law. This law would force single mothers to put their children’s father’s names on their children’s birth certificates. I was a bit nervous when I first heard this: In certain instances, not putting the father’s name on the birth certificate is the wisest option.Thankfully, Joan Burton seems to be aware of this, too, and has made mention of the fact that there will be provisions for mothers who feel it is in the child’s best interest if their father’s name is not on the birth certificate.

Putting the name of the father on the child’s birth certificate – according to the Irish government – is to ensure that children who are half-siblings do not have romantic/sexual relations. It’s also because every child has the right to know who both their parents are. I am broadly in agreement with this sentiment. It’s also in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 8 of which states that children have the right to preserve their identity, ‘including (…) family relations’.

Eight years ago today, I was in my bedroom in Singapore, labouring away with my second daughter. She was born – all four-point-three kilos and fifty-six centimetres of her – on the 18th of May, just after ten in the morning. Her father is called Arshad Iqbal Ahmed. He was born on the 11th of May, 1972 in Jabalpur in India. He knows it, I know it, she knows it and now, so do you. His name, however, isn’t on Kashmira’s birth certificate. Actually, now that I think of it, his name isn’t even on his own birth certificate! But I have very good reasons for not putting Arshad’s name on Kashmira’s birth certificate.

The day after I found out I was pregnant with her, he ‘suddenly remembered’ he was married. To his cousin. She was merrily living in India with her family, while he was merrily living in Singapore, with me. The day after his memory about his marital status came back, he fled the country and I haven’t seen him since.

Putting his name on my daughter’s birth certificate would mean that I would have to seek his permission every time I wanted to get her passport renewed; and for every other major decision pertaining to her wellbeing – from the kind of education she receives to what kind of medical care she receives. If (God forbid) she needed an operation, I’d have to ask his permission. Giving someone like him the power to make or veto decisions pertaining to my little girl was not something I was going to let happen.

Further, Arshad is Muslim, in accordance with which (in his and his Imam’s interpretation of Islam) on her last birthday Kashmira became his ‘property’ and he can swoop in and take her from me. He reminded me of this in one of his (many) abusive phone calls when I was pregnant; warning me that he could take ‘the child’ as soon as she was 7 and return to India with her. He had that right, he told me.

So, in my child’s best interest – which, happily, is also in her sister’s best interest and in mine – Arshad’s name is not on her birth certificate. But I can guarantee you that there is no possibility that she will marry her brother. Or even her cousin.