29 Nov 2023
Paternity Testing…an approaching tsunami
The other day I saw an online ad in French announcing the availability of a paternity test center in Cameroon where tests could be carried out for 150000cfa (250 USD). As the test prices keep dropping with apparently no clear rules regulating paternity tests, the stage is set for drama, confusion and conflict.
The understanding of the meaning of fatherhood is more complex in our African context than many will imagine. In many African communities, if a husband has fulfilled all the traditional requirements to marry a woman, the off springs of that woman thereafter become the children of her husband including those she was suspected to have had with other men. Fathers in the African communities were both moral and biological fathers and there was no clear distinction between the two.
Fast forward, we are in today’s Westernized Africa where concepts like ‘cheating on me’ are rife. The definition of fatherhood is now almost exclusively biological and the adverse consequences of DNA test are mostly on the women and children who were not favored by the test outcome. Embarrassing dramatic scenes have occurred at some visa issuing centers at some foreign embassies where some husbands learn with consternation that one or more of his children he intends to travel out of the country with are not his biological off springs. Anger fuelled by the embarrassment and humiliation often leads to matrimonial crisis including divorce.
Centers that are carrying out these tests indiscriminately and dishing out the results must understand the weighty implications of the test results. The paternity test results are akin to what used to obtain in the past with HIV test results at the time that getting infected was interpreted as a death sentence. People are usually counseled before they are handed a positive HIV test result. So too must a form of counselling be instituted before the release of an implicating DNA test result. Never underestimate the myopic and emotional nature of some men who may carry out some actions that they will regret later. In the same vein, never underestimate the emotional fragility of the women accused by the test for ‘cheating’ as some may also react in a regrettable manner. The psychological and emotional effects on the affected children is another haunting story.
I did take time to go through hundreds of reactions of readers to this ad. Some said it was a salutary development, while others said we don’t need it in Africa but majority expressed apprehension. The recurrent reaction was ‘la paix est bien’ (peace is good). One reader asked the doctor who put up the ad whether he was sure that he was the biological son of his father?
At this juncture, I am scratching my head as to how I should conclude this article. Like my Nigerian brothers would say ‘Wahala dey’.
Njei Timah Moses