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Five days off for fathers, even if baby is born out of wedlock

Hong Kong's new paternity rules split diocese

The diocese provides paternity leave to promote better care for mother and baby The diocese provides paternity leave to promote better care for mother and baby
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong
  • November 7, 2012
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A new paternity leave policy announced last month has divided members of Hong Kong diocese.

The five-day leave will apply equally to all male diocesan employees whether their child is born in or out of wedlock.

Although this is standard practice in Hong Kong, some lay catechists told ucanews.com they were worried it would be dangerous for the local Church to lose its position on marriage and family by conforming to it.

The Hong Kong government began the provision of paternity leave for civil servants in April. All government-aided schools began offering paternity leave to teachers in September.

The Education Bureau has advised schools to consider paternity leave for childbirth outside marriage on a case-by-case basis, noting that applicants would be eligible for leave if they could prove paternity and show a stable relationship with the mother of the child.

According to the diocese’s circular, paternity leave is meant to allow a father to take better care of a mother and baby. While maintaining the Catholic teaching on marriage, the diocese grants the leave to unmarried fathers because “love is above all virtues,” it said.

Kevin Lai, executive secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family, believed it is a “dilemmatic decision” for the diocese as it has to uphold the Church principle on the one hand and to meet the needs of mothers and infants on the other.

“[The Church] also has to consider equal treatment to non-Catholic employees as it cannot impose the Church’s view on them and exploit their rights,” Lai said. “Even some government policies also acknowledge the rights of children born outside of wedlock, so the diocese may bear legal liability if it doesn’t do the same."

The local Church has about 400 employees in its parishes, diocesan commissions, centers, offices, cemeteries, seminary and retreat house, a quarter of them male.

Francis Law, head of the Hong Kong Catholic Institution Staff Association, said they have been asking for paternity leave since 2007. “The reply was the diocese wanted to see how the government implemented it first.”

Beginning last month, a male employee with not less than 40 weeks’ continuous service before the expected or actual date of childbirth can enjoy five days off on full pay.

The diocese, which is the largest school-sponsoring body in Hong Kong, issued the circular to all 99 diocesan schools.

Diocesan chancellor Father Lawrence Lee Len said the local Church agrees with and supports the government’s family-friendly policy.

The diocese respects equal opportunities, but this “does not imply the Catholic Church has changed its position and teaching on marriage," he said.

“It is regrettable that nowadays many people have a separated concept on marriage and childbirth,” said Fr. Lee, a canonist. He also clarified that the measure is not designed specifically for non-Catholic employees but rather in an attempt to prevent discrimination against any father’s right and duty to look after his family.

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