Nigerian genetics experts have said that there is need to increase awareness and facilities for Deoxyribonucleic Acid, also known as DNA testing in the country, as statistics have revealed that more children are living with parents that are not biologically theirs.
According to a forensic geneticist, Dr. Abiodun Salami, 30 per cent of fathers are unknowingly nurturing and investing in children who are not biologically theirs.
Salami, who is also the Chief Medical Director, DNA Centre, Lagos, revealed that 50 per cent of the all paternity tests carried out in his laboratory came out negative and mostly affected were first born children.
He said, “Several surveys have shown that approximately three men in 10 are living under the deception that they are the fathers of another man’s children and with advances in genetic testing, they are more likely than ever to find out the shocking truth. Half of the paternity disputes and tests we carried out in two years showed that the fathers were not biologically related to their children especially when the dispute arose on paternity of first born children.
“We have seen cases of paternity disputes where even the two men claiming paternity to a child are excluded as the biological fathers from test results leaving the mother to look elsewhere for the child’s biological father. I have witnessed shocking cases where men discover that three or four children out of five they had were not fathered by them.”
Salami attributed the increase in paternity disputes and deceptions to infidelity, adultery and increase in sexual recklessness among Nigerian couples. Recent trends in sexual health especially in Nigeria suggest that unprotected sex and multiple partners’ relationships are a common occurrence. Another issue is poor family planning among women. Most first born pregnancies are still unplanned.
“I have seen and discussed with women who for one reason or other decide in their own wisdom to give another man’s child to their husbands without the husband’s knowledge. As a geneticist, I deal on a daily basis with the fall-out of adultery and other manifestations of selfish behaviour of spouses to their partners. Reproductive deception is morally similar to rape,” he said.
Naturally, when a case of paternity dispute arises in a family, relatives, husbands are quick to accuse the woman. It is assumed that a mother should be able to accurately disclose who the biological father of her child is.
However, Salami noted that only a DNA test could be used to confirm who fathered a child.
Another reason is also because more babies are increasingly being switched without their mothers’ knowledge by nurses, birth attendants and health workers in hospitals. He noted that baby switches were happening at a disturbing rate in Nigerian hospitals and the geneticist attributed these mix-ups to avoidable errors or malfeasance.
Salami condemned the use of corresponding ID bracelets between mothers and their babies, the most prevalent method in Nigerian hospitals ,which he said, often lead to mix-ups since such bracelets could fall off babies’ ankles or wrists and lead to nurses misreading infants to mothers’ bracelet information.
Apart from the ID mix-ups, he said bed mix-ups by health workers often happen especially in general wards especially after babies have been removed for bathing or treatment.
Salami, sharing an experience said, “I witnessed a case where a friend gave birth to a child and I went to visit, only for the father who was present at the delivery of the baby to come back to the hospital in the evening to say, to the surprise of everyone present that the baby the hospital presented was not his baby because his baby was born with dreadlocks just like him.
“He had to escort the doctors to identify his baby inside one of the cribs. This happened right inside one of the biggest and well known hospitals in Ikeja, Lagos. In the light of some of these shortcomings, we encourage maternal DNA testing because if we exclude her, we have established a case of infidelity against her, whereas her baby was switched at the hospital.”
He also urged mothers who doubt or suspect that their babies have been switched to voice their concerns as such cases could be investigated and documented for future references.
“Many people get home and look at a child and wonder if they brought home the right baby. In some reported cases, mothers have voiced their concerns while at the hospital, but did not get the chance to find out the truth until years later through DNA tests. To an ordinary person, this may look rare or even sound strange as most cases of babies switched at birth are either undocumented or unknown,” Salami added.
However, as beneficial as paternity DNA testing is, the importance of the DNA testing is still unpopular and often times regarded as irrelevant in Nigeria. Salami said that most Nigerians often use physical resemblance to fathers as a test of paternity.
“Unfortunately, Nigerians still use physical attributes to determine the paternity of a child. We have seen numerous cases where a child resembles a father, but accurate DNA test results show that such child and father are not related. Determination of paternity using physical attributes has led to a situation where illegitimate children have caused untold hardships to families,” he explained.
Shedding more light on the importance of the test as a means of identification, a haematologist with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, who pleaded an anonymity because he is not the hospital’s official spokesperson, called on government to provide DNA testing and banking (storing) facilities.
Olowoshelu said with these facilities, families could still make DNA verification after parties involved are dead. He said a sample of the deceased tissues that had been stored could be used and if no biological samples from the alleged father are available, grand parentage testing could be a viable option.
“If one or both paternal grandparents are unavailable for testing, other family relationship tests–such as genetic reconstructions and siblings’ tests, using the deceased brothers or sisters may be performed to indirectly determine a child’s paternity,” he said.
Earlier, Salami stated that poor DNA profiling and documentation due to lack of facilities and personnel had made this procedure a luxury to many Nigerians. He noted that such stored samples could help solve legal and financial disputes.
“Nigerians must take DNA testing and profiling and banking seriously. There are different reasons to establish paternity including the need to lay claims to a financial support.
“Government must provide DNA testing facilities such that we can have reference DNA for individuals should their remains need to be identified especially for those in high-risk employment such as the military, police, pilots, air hostesses and even those that fly the Nigerian airspace on regular basis.
“We can bank their DNA as a reference in cases of future paternity tests should some parties contest or make claims on inheritances that are not theirs,” he said.