Father's Days:
Supporting working fathers in Latin America and the Caribbean

Published: 30 March 2017

Some medium-sized enterprises in Latin America and the Caribbean are putting in place paternity packages that give their working fathers time to invest in their children. Marcelo Ber, Regional Child Rights and Business Focal Point for UNICEF Latin America, talks to new father, Rodrigo ,on why spending time with his baby daughter is a valued employee benefit - for the short-term and long-term.

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 how he comforted her the other day when he took her to get vaccinations during working hours. He is excited about having his first daughter (his oldest son is 8) because he says that “girls get more attached to dads than boys”. I also have a three-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 years old, and has worked for three years as a machine operator in Etipres at 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, the capital of Costa Rica.

Beyond a decent salary and other benefits, Rodrigo is pleased that Etipres gave him several paid leave days for paternity, although in Costa Rica, as in most of the countries of Central America and the Caribbean, the legal standard of paternity leave is zero days.

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.  Based on these connections, a child establishes the ability to learn, interact with others, speak, manage their emotions, gain short- and long-term health benefits, and secure many other advantages.

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I visited the factory where Rodrigo works in order to promote the implementation of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles[1]. Rodrigo’s story exemplifies how small and medium-sized enterprises are starting to re-consider 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 in the first 1,000 days of their children. For example, a few months ago the cosmetics company, Natura,  extended the paternity leave to 40 days in Argentina.

While there is no ILO standard on paternity leave, normative changes in this region lag behind countries in developed countries, Eastern Europe or Central Asia, despite evidence showing that how children are parented or cared for in the first years of their lives, can affect brain function for the rest of their lives —  In addition, given the high percentage of workers in the informal sector in Latin America, it is necessary to work with governments on the rollout of an adequate social protection system, so governments can  directly provide  support to parents and caregivers during the first years of life of their children.

Rodrigo 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.”

Like many of the other dads that I was fortunate to meet, thanks to my job at UNICEF, Rodrigo wants his daughter to have more and better opportunities than he had: to finish high school and, hopefully, to go to college. He knows that If he actively engages in parenting now, when she’s a baby, there will be more chances of this happening.

Global Child Forum on South America provides a unique platform to consider all the ways that business can impact children. Rodrigo’s experience – and those of other new father’s – underscores the benefits that can accrue to a company but most importantly, a child, when working fathers are given a chance to spend time at home caring for their babies. We look forward to discussing ideas to support Rodrigo, and other fathers, working for companies of all sizes in Latin America.

Author

Marcelo Ber

Regional Child Rights and Business Focal Point for UNICEF Latin America
UNICEF Latin America

Marcelo Ber is the UNICEF focal point for Child Rights and Business for Latin America and the Caribbean. He provides guidance, support and capacity development to 24 UNICEF country offices on developing approaches for children’s rights within key business sectors such as travel and tourism, food and beverage and mining.

He was previously project officer for Child Rights and Business in the headquarters of UNICEF in New York City and in UNICEF Argentina and a program manager of social entrepreneurship at Ashoka in their Washington DC headquarters. In his first job after graduating from school in Argentina, he was leading Corporate Social Responsibility at Procter & Gamble. Marcelo holds a Master in Public Administration and Policy from the Wagner School of New York University (NYU). He currently lives in Panama City, Panama. Contact Marcelo at: mber@unicef.org

Resources

The Children’s Rights and Business Principles were developed by UNICEF, Save the Children and the UN Global Compact in order to offer business a set of comprehensive principles to guide them on the full range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights.