Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday, February 17, 2001

A heavy price to pay for trust

Sydney Morning Herald

Some time ago, a young man from a NSW country town received a bravery award for dragging a stranger from a car crash. Pictures taken at the time showed the handsome twentysomething smiling modestly as he displayed his award - the very model of a decent, upright citizen.

Yet here the young man cannot be named. He's spent the past decade suffering the consequences of a youthful mistake which has placed him centre stage in a growing political battle to recognise the role of fraud in denying men's reproductive choice.

Andrew (not his real name) was a cheerful, confident 16-year-old when he first received flattering attention from Sheryl (not her real name), a good-looking girl who lived nearby. Pleased to be singled out by a girl a full year older than himself, he quickly found himself embarking on his first sexual relationship despite his sheltered religious upbringing. Sheryl assured Andrew that she was on the pill and they discussed abortion as the best solution to unwanted pregnancy.

He now berates himself for not listening more closely when she talked about her fervent desire for children.

A few months later Sheryl announced her pregnancy. Andrew was stunned by her obvious delight. "She was elated, as if it was the best thing that could have happened to her. When I reminded her of our previous conversation about abortion, she told me to f--- off. 'I'm having it and I don't want you in my life,' she said."

Andrew's paternity became hot news when Sheryl brought the child to show friends at his school. "What was that, dad?" teased a teacher when Andrew asked a question in class. His previously solid academic record declined and he withdrew from school and sports activities.

Ten years later he's finally back on track towards his long-held goal of studying medicine. But it has been a long struggle through periods of intense depression.

"I've been so worried about him," says his mother. "Whenever we didn't know where he was I'd worry that he might have done something terrible to himself."

Andrew's parents are paying their son's monthly $285 child support bill to enable him to resume his medical studies.

"Andrew's been a victim for long enough," says his father, who is conducting a public campaign to draw attention to issues of fraud and the responsibilities of minors with regard to child support.

For information on the campaign, write to PO Box 900, Richmond, NSW 2753.

Copyright © 2001. The Sydney Morning Herald