Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Kenyan men unknowingly raising other people's children!

50% of Kenyan men who go for paternity tests at the Government Chemist turn out not to be the real fathers of the children they have invested in both emotionally and financially.

Shock and disbelief is hitting these men when they realize later in life that the child they have believed to be theirs belongs to another man who might be a relative, close friend, or their wife’s office mate. For others, it is a moment of exuberance when the test returns negative results.

In the last two years, 137 cases of paternity testing have been conducted at the Chemist, half of them turning out not to be the biological fathers of the babies, “The trend we are registering here is that 50 percent of those who seek paternity tests turn out to be real fathers and the rest are not,” says John Mungai, a Senior Analyst at the Government Chemist.

The astonishing results are leaving in their wake family break-ups, devastated and traumatized individuals, domestic violence directed at the child or woman, confusion, low self-esteem and anxiety among children. and mental health problems for both partners.

But the country does not have a support system that would help in disclosing paternity discrepancies and help the concerned parties go through such trying moments with less pain. Instead, couples or families are given the results and left to sort the issues themselves, with resultant negative repercussions. “Matters around paternity testing are vital and very emotional, and yet we give people information without giving some thoughts of how it going to affect them and their dependants,” says Dr Nelly Kitazi, a psychiatrist.
“If the child is older and able to tell what is going on, they feel a sense of loss, cheated and uncertain about the future when the person they have always thought to be their father is in doubt.” Even when the paternity test is positive, the distrust imprinted in the child’s mind lasts forever, says Dr Kitazi.

Since 1999, the Government Chemist has been undertaking paternity tests which have left different impacts on various people. Their state-of-the art equipment used in Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis, continue to produce results somewhat comparable with what studies in Europe have found out around the issue of paternity. According to one of the most extensive and elaborate study published in the 2005 Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, one in 25 men or four percent, are not the real fathers of the children they are raising. Using either DNA profiling or typing, other studies have shown that up to 30 per cent of the men are not the biological fathers of the children they think they sired.

DNA test is known to be the best possible means of proving paternity, with a 99.9 percent accuracy rating that shows the alleged father to be indeed the biological father of the childSome of the high profile cases the Government Chemist has handled through DNA analysis to prove paternity are the Gilbert Deya’s ‘miracle baby’ case and the Mathege case (the Ethiopia man Lema Ayanu "believed" to be general Mathege).

Mungai says interest in the paternity tests has been growing in recent times as more men want to know if they are the biological fathers of their children. Requests from the children’s court and organization such as FIDA, in child maintenance and care cases where the man disputes paternity, form the main sources of disputes being handled by the Chemist.

Other requests are coming from individual doctors handling specific cases of doubtful paternity.

Those seeking paternity tests give more or less similar reasons why they want the service.  Majority of the men who have taken the initiative to do the test say they were prompted by their wive’s claims that they are not the fathers of the children. “Sometimes when a couple is quarrelling, and the woman in an attempt to hurt the man, tells him he is not even the father of the children,” says Mrs Jane Okado, the Chief Government Chemist. “This statement leaves the man devastated, with the only option being a paternity test to establish if indeed he is the real father of the children he considers dear to him.”

Studies elsewhere show quarrels between couples or siblings to be one of the main reasons behind the need for paternity test. In other cases, men rush for the tests if they suspect their wife is having an affair or if one of the children is obviously not theirs. If the latter is the case, the men who have gone to the government chemist have requested paternity tests of other older children, just to be sure of their fatherhood. Women too initiate requests for tests when the man refuses to accept fatherhood.

Cases of organ transplant are another avenue through which men known their paternity, but in a default manner. Dr Omu Anzala, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi says more cases of paternity discrepancy are likely to come to the fore if insurance companies insist on paternity test before providing certain policies. Interestingly, in most of the paternity cases at the Chemist, women are more willing to collect the results than men. “From our experience, men usually refuse to pick the results especially in cases where they know they are the real fathers,” says Mungai.

While the reasons prompting the need for paternity test or refusal to pick the results vary from one case to another, the procedure they go through is the same. When a man or woman goes for paternity testing, he or she is expected to fulfill certain conditions. Fresh blood samples of the alleged father, the child in question, and the biological mother have to be submitted for testing.

Although the person in dispute is the father, the mother’s results are critical for comparison purposes. They also enable the DNA analyst to make a conclusive decision whether the alleged father is the real father or not. The blood samples from the three parties can be taken by a doctor or hospital of the client’s choice, and then taken to the government chemist. A fee of Ksh 5,000 is charged for each sample, meaning in the case of the three people a total of Ksh 15,000 is required.  This amount increases depending on the number of children involved in the paternity dispute.

In cases where the man in question is deceased, the tooth cavity or the long bones are used in the analysis as the DNA in them is well preserved.  This DNA is then compared with those of the alleged children. Similarly, in the cases of the missing fathers, the DNA of the children is used to find out if the father who has re-emerged or found dead is indeed their father. This is what happened in the Mathege case, who had been presumed to be the lost. To prove indeed this was Mathege, the DNA of his alleged children was taken and compared with his. The government is yet to officially announce his nationality. 

Regardless of the case, Mungai says a negative outcome is refreshing to the analyst. “A negative results showing the man not to be the father is the best because it easy to conclude. But positive results require repeat tests as they are usually disputed.”

Most men who are convinced not to be fathers of the child get shocked when results turn otherwise. Such men are ready to pay more money for confirmatory tests. Sometimes the cost might be high if the samples are send to foreign laboratories. In one such case, a pastor whose DNA results showed he was the biological father of a child disputed them and requested for more than two repeat tests. Results that are partially positive- where some regions of the DNA are missing- can make conclusion very difficult and may require another laboratory outside the country to conduct further tests, according to Mrs Okado. Currently, such results are send to South Africa for further analysis.

Confusing too are cases involving identical twins. If one twin sires a child and then later refuses to accept fatherhood, the mother can successfully claim the other twin to be the father. Genetically, identical twins tend to have a similar DNA pattern since they are developed from the same egg. Hence, if the DNA of one is taken, it will look similar to the DNA of the other twin.

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