What’s paternity leave got to do with violence against women and the sexual exploitation of girls? More than you’d think it turns out.

Fathers who are involved in caring for and raising their children from an early age are less likely to pay for sex with a teenage girl and act violently towards their children and partners, says Marcos Nascimento, a leading expert in gender equality.

“Research has shown that the more men are involved as fathers from an early stage, getting them involved in pre-natal classes, being present at birth and after a child is born can be a protection against sexual exploitation and violence against women by fostering a sense of responsibility and care fathers feel towards their children,” says Nascimento, a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a research institute in Rio de Janeiro.

He points to a study carried out by gender equality charity Promundo in four Brazilian cities, including Rio de Janeiro, in 2009 and 2010 that looked at views among men and women towards the sexual exploitation of teenagers.

“Research in parts of Brazil has shown those fathers who are involved as fathers, in raising their children, are more likely to have an aversion to pay for sex for girls aged 15 to 17, show a strong revulsion for other men who sexually exploit children and could be strong advocates on the issue,” says Nascimento, a psychologist, and former head of Promundo.

Yet few governments are implementing new policies or widespread national education programmes to encourage and support men and teenage boys to be more involved fathers.

One key initiative is to increase paternity leave. “If you want men to get involved in being fathers, you can’t do this without changes to public policy that supports men to get involved as fathers. This includes changing public policy on paternity leave,” says Nascimento.

According to a 2014 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 78 out of 167 countries surveyed have a statutory right to paternity leave.

But most countries offer just between one and six days in paternity leave, some offer none, and take up rates among men are low, especially where leave is unpaid, the ILO says.

In Brazil, for example, paternity leave is five days, in Argentina it’s two days. Only Chile, Italy and Portugal make paternity leave compulsory, while a few countries, including Sweden, Iceland and Norway, offer non-transferable leave exclusive to fathers, according to the ILO.

Businesses can play an important role by supplementing government leave benefits for new fathers or provide at least two weeks of paid paternity leave, campaigners say.

“Leave for fathers is a vital step toward recognition of the importance of sharing caregiving for children, and it is an important means of promoting the well-being of children and gender equality in the home, the workplace, and society as a whole,” says a June 2015 report by Mencare, a global fatherhood campaign.

Public health programmes worldwide also need to do more to include fathers during the birth of their children, and make pre-natal classes and clinics more welcoming for men, campaigners say.

“Birth is still only a space for women, especially in rural areas, where men are largely excluded,” says Nascimento.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Based in Bogota, Anastasia Moloney is the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Latin America and Caribbean correspondent.

Image: A man and child walk by the sea in Brighton, southern England. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor