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Need a Visa? Try a DNA Paternity Test
The Moscow Times
Monday, Oct. 1, 2001. Page 1
Need a Visa? Try a DNA Paternity Test
By Valeria Korchagina -- Staff Writer
For women not sure whose child they are carrying, or for men not sure
whose child calls them "Papa," a DNA paternity test can be just the
answer.
DNA paternity testing is one of many modern technologies quickly moving
into the lives of average Russians. At least four laboratories in Moscow
provide paternity tests -- pre- and postnatal -- and staff say there are
enough doubting Thomases to provide clients for them all.
Some Russians have used paternity tests to sort out immigration problems
or prove to consulate officials that their child is really theirs and thus
should be given a visa.
"We have all sorts of people coming in," said Igor Kondratyev, deputy
director of the Moscow City DNA Testing Center. "Some are seeking answers
for legal battles over child custody or child support payments, some to
resolve jealousy, some, although it may sound strange, just for the fun of
it."
Kondratyev said about one-third of his clients are men who want to have
their child tested without the mother's knowledge. "I try to warn them
that the step is serious and it could be that in the end the mother would
have to be informed, but they come anyway," he said.
The motives of those who come for paternity testing are diverse and their
stories say something about the society we live in.
Ilya Barkov works at the Academy of Medical Science's Center of Midwifery
and Gynecology, where he does prenatal paternity tests as early as the
ninth week of pregnancy.
"Often it is a question of having an abortion or keeping a baby," Barkov
said. "And out of about 40 tests we did, in 20 we literally prevented
abortions, as mothers-to-be were reassured that the babies they were
bearing were from the right man."
In more unpleasant circumstances, paternity testing can put the mind at
ease of a woman who fears she may be bearing the child of a rapist.
"We had a woman who was sexually assaulted by two men," Barkov said. "At
the same time she and her husband were planning to have a baby, so the
woman was not on any contraceptives and she became pregnant."
Luckily Barkov's test showed that the child was fathered by her husband.
"We just offer women a choice in what would otherwise most likely be a
no-choice situation leading to an abortion," he said.
The number of people requesting paternity tests is growing, but for many
the cost is still prohibitively high, Barkov said. Prenatal testing, which
is a more complicated procedure, costs about $500, he said.
Barkov told the story of how DNA testing helped a pregnant woman who in
the past year was denied entry to Switzerland for her own wedding.
"She was due to marry a guy there, but returned to Moscow to get
invitations and visas for her parents," Barkov said. "When the time came
for her to head to Switzerland, her pregnancy had become more obvious, and
she was told by Swiss authorities to stay in Moscow until the baby was
born. Only after the father had confirmed that the child was his would she
be allowed to go through all necessary immigration procedures -- this time
including the child in the papers."
A solution was found, however. The Swiss father-to-be flew to Moscow to
have paternity tests, and after it became clear the child was actually
his, the pregnant woman was allowed to enter Switzerland.
Many Western embassies will accept DNA tests from immigration applicants
as a means of proving such a family relationship, though they cannot
require applicants to undergo the test. U.S. embassies, for example, are
instructed to advise applicants that they may offer the results of a DNA
test as evidence to support their application, if the consular officer
decides that "other available evidence is insufficient to meet the
applicant's burden of proof."
As strange as it may seem, some Western studies suggest that one out of
every 10 children is not the biological offspring of the man officially
recognized as the father.
One such study is Robin Baker's 1996 book "Sperm Wars: The Science of
Sex," which looks at the subject from a demographic angle: "Some men ...
have a higher chance of being deceived than others -- and it is those of
low wealth and status who fare worst.
"Actual figures range from 1 percent in high-status areas of the United
States and Switzerland, to 5 to 6 percent for moderate-status males in the
United States and Great Britain, to 10 to 30 percent for lower-status
males in the United States, Great Britain and France. Moreover, the men
most likely to sexually hoodwink the lower-status males are men of higher
status."
There are no such statistics available for Russia, but doctors say it is
probably no different here.
In DNA paternity testing, the DNA pattern of the child, assumed father and
mother are compared. Basic biology suggests that the child inherits half
of its genes from each parent. While the mother's biological relation to
the offspring is taken for granted, doctors look for similarities between
the father's and child's DNA.
If the man is not the father, the differences are striking, completely
excluding biological relation. If the results are positive, doctors
calculate the probability of paternity according to the statistical
frequency of the matching sequences of the DNA in the general population.
They can then offer the probability of paternity as a percentage.
The current percentage accepted by law in developed countries is anything
over 99.75 percent, which legally stands as "fatherhood practically
proved." Put another way, it means that the chance of someone else
fathering the child is one in tens of thousands.
Further accuracy can be achieved by comparing more sections of the DNA,
especially those that occur rarely. Such a procedure can usually decrease
the chances of statistical error to one in 10 million or even 100 million.
Kondratyev, who has been providing his DNA testing services since the
mid-1990s, once tested a man whose partner was stripped of custody of
their child because of alcoholism. The couple was not married and the
father's name was not on the 5-year-old boy's birth certificate. In the
absence of another legal custodian, the boy was sent to an orphanage.
By having a DNA test, the man managed to prove his kinship to the child
and is now taking care of him.
"We also occasionally have couples who just come and laughingly say that
they want to finally find out 'whose child it is, after all,'" Kondratyev
said. "And they usually take the answer easily, whether the man does or
doesn't turn out to be the biological father."
Most men, however, take the matter more seriously and want to make sure
they are the biological father of their child, even if this means having
the testing done without the mother's knowledge.
Technically it is possible to do a paternity test without a sample from
the mother, but experts say the precision of the results drops.
Some men bring in their wives' hair or even used sanitary pads, said Ilya
Yefremov, a geneticist who conducts tests at the State Genetics Research
Institute.
While Kondratyev only does tests on blood samples, Yefremov occasionally
agrees to use less typical materials such as saliva and hair follicles.
"There is certainly a demand for such tests," Yefremov said. "People
sometimes call for months with various inquisitive questions, and then go
and do the test in more than one place, just to make sure there are no
mistakes."
For some men, finding out they are not the biological father presents a
dilemma. Often the bond they have formed with the child is too strong to
break, Kondratyev said.
"I often suggest they tear up the results of the tests and try to go on
with their lives as if nothing ever happened," he said.
Moscow Times Home:  http://www.moscowtimes.ru/

 

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