1929 Legitimacy Act a dinosaur
The Law Reform Commission is to be commended for reviewing status-of-children legislation, and we urge legislators to review and pass the new law as soon as possible after its completion.
The 1929 Legitimacy Act currently in effect unjustly discriminates against children born out of wedlock. This fact alone puts the territory in direct contravention of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, the law also codifies a long-held and unfair social prejudice against so-called “illegitimate” children.
Lawmakers discussed the issue in the Legislative Council in 1999. However, after it proved highly controversial, they took no further action.
Now, the new government should follow the lead of other developed countries and territories around the world, which eliminated similar legitimacy legislation long ago — including the United Kingdom, the origin of the VI’s law.
There is no compelling reason to keep the existing act on the books.
The main argument against change seems to come from parents who fear that children fathered outside of their marriage will inherit property without their consent. This argument seems specious, considering that parents can pass their property to anyone they choose simply by making a will.
Others suggest that changing the legislation would encourage marital infidelity. We doubt this would be the case, but even if it were, infidelity is a social problem best addressed by means that don’t victimise innocent children.
Children born out of wedlock are certainly a major concern for a territory where many single parents face child-rearing responsibilities alone. But the solution is not to continue to uphold the outdated Legitimacy Act.
The new law would also bring the current legislation up to date in other respects, including presumptions of paternity and artificial conception, according to the LRC. No doubt these changes are badly needed as well.
The commission is right to revisit the 1929 act and to gather public input in the process. We hope the draft law will be completed soon, and that the recently elected government will show its commitment to children’s rights by passing it with all possible haste.