Need a Visa? Try a DNA Paternity Test
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Crime Lab 2A-3356N, Wash DC
DNA Test Results: Clinton, William Jefferson
Dear Mr. Starr:
The test on the dress came back inconclusive.
Everyone in Arkansas has the same DNA.