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Cape Town - A Cape Town man is fighting the cause of all fathers of newborns, petitioning for 10 days’ paternity leave to be provided for them in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

Fathers may take three days’ family responsibility leave a year, but there is no provision for paternity leave.

Financial manager Hendri Terblanche, 38, from Brackenfell, took issue with this when twins Danté and Juandré were born three months prematurely in November to him and his wife, Giselle.

Danté weighed 895g and Juandré 985g.

Danté spent 139 days in hospital and Juandré 79 days, compared with three days for a normal birth. Mothers who have a Caesarean remain in hospital for up to a week.

During the months that he visited his infant sons in intensive care, Terblanche saw many fathers come and go – all very present for their children’s first three days, after which they had to return to work.

Terblanche said he is not “trying to reinvent the wheel”, just asking for 10 days to give fathers more involvement in the care of their children.

“Fathers should be involved from day one,” he emphasised.

The three days allowed for family responsibility leave is not enough as it does not allow for further days in the event of a Caesarean delivery, parents whose children have been born prematurely and/or are sick, and any other family emergencies that might occur.

Danté is in hospital for the third time since birth and Terblanche has to to visit him outside working hours. He said premature babies had poor immune systems and might need multiple hospital visits in their first three years.

“Everyone is quick to say fathers are not involved enough… but with only three days’ paid family responsibility leave they have a disadvantage from the start.”

He said parenting was a team effort and the law needed to change to factor in fathers.

Paternity leave should also apply to fathers who had adopted a child, with no difference in the number of days.

“The only difference between a father who is privileged to have a child and a father who adopts a child is blood. There is no difference between the way the two types of fathers love their children or care for them whether it is changing diapers or reading a bedtime story.”

Terblanche consulted the constitution and found that “any interested persons” could submit a petition to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and any MP could present a petition to the National Assembly.

He submitted his petition to the chairwoman of the NCOP, Thandi Modise, on July 3.

He also approached every member of Parliament and urged them to draft a bill for consideration by the National Assembly.

He received an acknowledgement from Modise saying his petition would be referred to the select committee on petitions and executive undertakings “for consideration and report”.

Asked to comment, NCOP spokeswoman Khuthala Noah said the petition had been referred to the committee for discussion.

Any resolutions would be communicated to the petitioner or relevant institutions.

Another new father, who asked not to be named, said his first child was born six weeks ago. With his job in the transport industry, he said he was allowed leave only at a certain time of year.

He had taken the four days his company allocated for paternity leave, but his baby had colic and he was not able to be there for his wife and baby.

“I want to help because it’s new for her as well. We’re both learning the ropes.”

He calls her throughout the day, but his wife was “basically on her own”.

“It’s in the back of my head constantly – is she okay?”

He could not afford to take unpaid leave.

To aid his cause, Terblanche has been garnering support online. Under his Twitter handle @DadsToBeAdvice, he posed the question: “Paternity Leave in SA: Yes or No? Thanks in advance. #10DaysPaternityLeave.”

He has received positive feedback from many people, including television personality Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, Kfm host Ryan O’Connor and public figures such as Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

“Wow 10 days for paternity leave for SA dads? That would be (a) great start. Love Danish model: one year for mothers and six months for fathers,” wrote Mabuza-Suttle.

Several countries acknowledge the role of fathers in the early stages of childhood, with many offering parental leave specifically for fathers or shared parental leave where parents may choose which will stay at home with the child.

What other countries offer new fathers

SWEDEN: Parents are entitled to 480 days leave, with 60 days for both parents directly after the birth and the remainder to be shared between the parents as they decide. Adopting parents may also share 480 days and single parents may take the full amount.

UNITED KINGDOM: From April parents, including adopting parents, will be entitled to share 12 months’ leave. Mothers will be required to take two weeks leave after giving birth, but the remainder of the leave can be shared between parents. They can also choose to take 25 weeks together.

AUSTRALIA: Working fathers, including same-sex partners and adopting parents, are entitled to 14 days leave paid at the national minimum wage. Fathers who are the primary carer of a newborn or adopted child are entitled to 18 weeks leave paid at the national minimum wage.

CHINA: Draft legislation has been proposed to introduce three days paid paternity leave for employees on continuous contracts. Fathers will be able to take the days during the four weeks before the birth or up to 10 weeks after and they will not have to be taken consecutively.

THAILAND: Paternity leave is encouraged by the Ministry of Labour, but it is the employer’s decision regarding leave and pay. In 2012 the Thai cabinet approved 15 days paid paternity leave for state officials or employees.

KENYA: Two weeks, or 14 days including weekends, with full pay.

MOZAMBIQUE: One day paid leave every two years, to be taken on the day immediately following the birth.

CAMEROON: Up to 10 days paid paternity leave a year, including three mandatory days.

GHANA: Last year Ghana’s Labour Act was amended to include five days paid paternity leave for fathers who could produce a medical certificate.

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Cape Times