Rodrigo’s eyes radiate when he speaks about his relationship with his three-month-old daughter: how he changes her diaper, rocks her to sleep and, the other day, comforted her when he took her to get vaccinated during working hours. He is excited about having his first daughter (his oldest son is eight) because he says that “girls get more attached to dads than boys.” I also have a six-month-old baby, Camila, who is starting to smile like no one else has never smiled at me. I enjoy talking with Rodrigo about the uniqueness of fathering a girl.
Rodrigo is Costa Rican, 26, and has worked for three years as a machine operator at Etipres, a small labelling factory that supplies larger companies in the food and pharmaceutical sector. His neighbours are Costa Rican blue-collar workers and Nicaraguan migrants and they live near the industrial zone of Heredia, not far from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital.
Rodrigo is pleased that Etipres gave him several paid leave days for paternity (as well as a decent salary and other benefits) since in Costa Rica, as in most of the countries of Central America and the Caribbean, the legal standard of paternity leave is zero days as the first graphic below shows. He believes that these initial measures from his factory supporting the development of his young children, “contributes to boost the morale of the guys and helps us to stay loyal to the company for many years.”
Talking to him it becomes obvious that he is working very hard to maximize the window of opportunity of the first 1,000 days of his baby daughter, the only time when more than 1,000 brain cells have the potential to connect every second. He knows that, based on these connections, his daughter will establish the ability to learn, speak and interact with others, manage her emotions, gain health benefits, and secure many other advantages.
UNICEF data shows that only between 6% to 36% of fathers are involved in learning activities for their children 3-5 years old in Latin America and the Caribbean. The involvement of mothers is much higher, and varies between 31% and 82% depending on the country. Likewise, in the poorest households in the region, only 4% to 22% of the parents are involved, while at the richest households up to 39% of fathers are engaged (see figure 2 for more details), so parents like Rodrigo are an exception.
On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I visited the factory where Rodrigo works to promote the implementation of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles. Rodrigo’s story exemplifies how small- and medium-sized enterprises are starting to reconsider how they view working fathers – in many cases due to the influence of other larger companies. Several large companies in Latin America and the Caribbean have already embraced the importance of fathers’ involvement in the first 1,000 days of their children. For example, a few months ago in Argentina the cosmetics company, Natura, extended the paternity leave to 40 days.
While there is no labour standard on paternity leave, changes in this region lag behind countries in developed countries, Eastern Europe or Central Asia, despite evidence showing that how children are cared for in the first years of their lives, can affect brain function for the rest of their lives. According to figure below, only four countries in the region provide more than five days of paid paternity leave. In addition, given the high percentage of informal workers in Latin America, it is necessary to work with governments on an adequate social protection system, so governments can directly provide support to parents and caregivers during children’s first years of life.
Like many of the other dads that I was fortunate to meet, thanks to my job at UNICEF, Rodrigo wants his daughter to have better opportunities than he did, and more: he wants her to finish high school and go to college. He knows that if he actively engages in parenting now, when she’s a baby, there are better chances of this happening.
Rodrigo’s experience – and that of other new fathers – underscores the benefits that can accrue to a company but, most importantly, to a child, when working fathers are given a chance to spend time at home caring for their babies. We look forward to furthering ideas that can support Rodrigo, and other fathers, working for companies of all sizes in Latin America.
1: Paternity leave in LAC:
2; Father engagement in childhood learning:
Marcelo Ber is a UNICEF regional specialist on Child Rights and Business for Latin America and the Caribbean. Twitter:@bermarce