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Children are collateral damage as DNA paternity tests rise

As the frequency of DNA paternity tests surges, an Umbrella Human Rights Organization (CLADHO) has issued a stark warning, highlighting the potential risks faced by children in the absence of adequate protective measures.

A recently released report from the Rwanda Forensic Laboratory reveals a significant increase in the number of paternity tests conducted, soaring from 168 in 2018/19 to 780 in 2022/23.

The laboratory’s records show that 246 paternity tests were performed in 2019/20, followed by 424 tests in 2020/21, and 599 tests in 2021/22, culminating in a substantial rise to 780 tests in 2022/23.

An official from the institution explained to The New Times that the surge in DNA paternity tests can be attributed to the accessibility of local services, which was further bolstered by an extensive awareness campaign promoting laboratory services, including biological/DNA tests, throughout the country.

However, he said the laboratory can not avail the nature of each case.

Established in 2018, the Forensic Science Laboratory is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Justice Office.

The Forensic Science Laboratory is the sole provider of forensic and advisory service to law enforcement agencies in Rwanda and is fast becoming an increasingly prominent forensic service player provider in the region.

In 2018, the Kacyiru-based National Forensic Laboratory, started receiving requests for DNA tests at the cost of Rwf270, 000, a price that is nearly half what it would cost to conduct one test in foreign countries, like Germany.

However, members of the Lower chamber of Parliament have expressed concern over the high cost of DNA tests at the Kigali-based National Forensic Laboratory, urging the Government to consider ways to bring it down.

While these are factors that could fuel the continuous rise in DNA paternity tests, Child Protection and Promotion Manager at CLADHO, Evariste Murwanashyaka urged the government to come up with strong measures to protect child’s rights who might fall victim in case paternity test results show that the children are not biological.

“DNA is necessary in case there is no trust among couples although we urge couples to trust each other. We urged them to ensure fidelity before going for paternity tests. We have realized that when results are out, the children are tortured, deprived of their rights, lack home and go to the street given that most of the couples in this conflict end up in divorce,” he warned.

He said that the results are also causing psychosocial effects to children since they get traumatized when they realize such a situation.

“DNA paternity results are disintegrating families because fathers have no longer legal obligation to the child. Children should first be protected. Even when the DNA paternity results show that the child is not yours, this should be done before law to ensure children’s rights are protected when the couples separate. The child usually remains with their mother. I think the couples should keep looking after the children together even when they are not biological,” Murwanashyaka noted.

He called upon different institutions in charge of child protection to educate families about child rights particularly in case of DNA paternity testing.

Innocent Muramira, a lawyer, argued: “Once a child is not yours they are not ones to be held accountable …… If he is a good guy he can continue to take care of the child but not like a biological father. Otherwise the mother can look for the biological father of the child or the state can intervene on how to take care of such children.”

He reminded us that DNA should be ordered by court.

“I really think getting DNA for the child from a biological parent is vital because it may prevent issues which may arise at a later time. However, it is not prudent for a father to start guessing about his children hence DNA. We have seen families getting issues but it all goes to the trust and good faith between married couples,” he said.

Debate in Uganda

Uganda has significantly reduced the number of laboratories approved to offer DNA testing services following a spike in paternity tests being sought daily in the country.

(The laboratories) have indicated that 7 out of 10 paternity disputes that sought testing turned out to be positive biological relationships.

However, prevalence of DNA laboratories in the country had raised public concern on the credibility of paternity test results, amid reports of defective machines and switching of samples.

The government said two entities, privately-owned MBN chain and the Government Analytical Laboratory, were the accredited facilities to conduct the tests in the country.

Most paternity tests had returned positive results for men seeking to prove fatherhood of their children, the minister said.

Early this month lawmakers expressed concern at the high number of DNA tests sought in the country especially by men to resolve kinship disputes.

Ugandan police, marriage counsellors and religious leaders also expressed similar concerns, according to reports.

Although the debate is around men who want to confirm off springs from a past relationship, other typical customers include father’s seeking reassurance that they fathered their children, fathers in distant relationships, women inquiring about paternity on behalf of their children, relatives from the paternal side, women seeking child support, and even children who want to know who their biological parents

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