A few days ago, I was having a discussion with a lady friend who confessed to me that she got married by her current husband because she got pregnant. She then told me that the pregnancy was not his but she has never got the courage to tell him so. They have since gotten two more babies. As was the case with the first born, she suspects the third born is not the man’s and was most likely conceived out of an illicit affair with a colleague during one of the office party adventures. She was having a hard time in her marriage then and decided to offload her stories on the colleague. But then they got so close and intimate and thanks to the party beers, things got horizontal. A number of meetings with the good friend latter, a pregnancy followed and a baby could have been the outcome. But she is not sure and this uncertainty is depressing her. The supposed to be father of these children who proudly holds their hands for an estate stroll every weekend, and who dedicatedly toils his life away to provide for ‘his lovely family’ knows nothing of the lies upon which his marriage began and on which his children were begotten. His is an imagined perfect world that would crumble any time when the fathers of his beloved children come to collect. He has built his family on a quicksand and may know the truth when it is already too late or may never know it at all. What a wasted life the man would have led; what a peaceless life the woman will have endured.
Upon listening to this story, and during my own quiet time, I started imagining how many adults, especially men, are living through this abusive experience. I could see them in my mind walking kilometers every morning and every evening going to hustle for their families. Many of these supposed to be fathers engage in hard manual labor carrying stones at construction sites. They toil in white settler farms, factories, warehouses loading and offloading sacks of Chinese products, in their village sambas, and such other places. They stomach insults, assaults and overwork from bosses daily with the knowledge that these hustles will put food on the table, clothes on the backs and fees in the school accounts for their children. But I wish they knew what happens when they are away toiling. How bodies are busy somewhere else making them more children to feed, cloth, educate and bring up.
Do such fathers deserve some justice from the society? Don’t you think some affirmative action is necessary to protect these helpless and deliberately abused souls? It is time that The Kenyan Constitution and our legal systems guaranteed fundamental rights including a right to information that is important for the personal development, social justice and psycho-social safety of the individual within the family context. Women have been given this privilege by laws that require husbands to ask for their permission when marrying another wife or when taking a bank loan where family property will act as collateral. It is the responsibility of society to provide all her people with information relevant for making decisions that have a significant impact on their future and their legacy. As such, it goes against the laws of the supreme God that we as a nation claim to worship to be comfortable with allowing a great chunk of our population to live a lie. Such is a deception that also threatens the peace and unity that the national constitution demands of and desires for our citizens. How can peace and security co-exist with dishonesty malice and wanton manipulation of the males (or some clusters) of a society? Isn’t it worrying to see men killing wives and children then committing suicide day in day out due to these ills?
Kenya has very few hospitals, clinics and laboratories that offer DNA services. Here, the average lab cost of paternity DNA tests is 20,000 Kenya shillings for the alleged father and child. The total expenditure when acquiring the service however goes up in most cases due to the additional processes involved that would see an individual spend even more. The crisis is also compounded by the assumption in the country that people only take DNA tests to sort out a legal or criminal matter added to the general affinity by our society to feed people with the truth. The adage that what you don’t know does not hurt you fits Kenyan societies well. But the existence of this problem is also eating her people up; from the inside. Due to these bottlenecks, a simple thing such as undertaking a paternity test has been made out of reach for the average Kenyan. With reports indicating that nearly half of Kenyan households earn less than 10,000 Kenya shillings per month, getting DNA tests to confirm paternity of children is an unachievable life-long wish for Kenyans who have to live with the constant doubt about who actually hit up that egg.
Article ten of the Constitution of Kenyan dictates the values by which the general society should be governed. These principles include integrity, transparency, accountability, respect for human dignity and mutual respect for each other. Conversely, it robs one of his dignity and respect as a man to bring up children that one did not sire while all the while thinking that the children are his own. It will be misleading to tell such people that they should not worry because what they do not know will not hurt them. In most cases, this information comes out anyway, albeit, rather too late and is a source of hurt and regret. Men then discover that their twenty years of toil and putting food on the table for the children they were so much proud of and called their own so loudly before anyone and everyone who could hear was a stupid joke. It is immoral to watch this happen to the dominant tax payers, to say the least.
That mothers can keep such important information from the bread winners for these children violates the principles of transparency and accountability upon which Kenya is founded. Even on occasions where the man does not end up marrying such a woman, he will morally be forced or obliged to send upkeep for the child for his entire life and is often intimidated with likely legal ramifications if he defaults. The government making it hard for the males of the country’s population to know whether ‘their children’ carry their DNA by hiking the cost of DNA services therefore becomes a form of cooperation in violating rights of these citizens and accomplice in covering up a crime. It should stop. This practice steals the joy and quality of family experience from the couple, and even the children who may often be told by neighbors that they don’t look like anyone within their own family. Such children live with a lot of unanswered questions all their lives. Fathering and fatherhood is a sociocultural and a biological construct and must be allowed to bear its full definition to the interest of all family members and the society at large.
Global statistics indicate that out of wedlock births are on the increase. According to data published by Yale University, on average, 60% of children are born out of wedlock in open societies that do not put too much restrictions on socialization between the male and the females. This is the case in a majority of South American countries. The trend is catching up with other nations with European families majorly having single parent families. In these regions however, transparency is allowed so that parties to a marriage voluntarily accept to parent children they did not sire. Contrary to that, Muslim and Buddhist societies of Asia and Northern Africa have out of wedlock births at less than 1%. The low figures can be attributed to the social controls put in place by these cultures and religions which frown upon cross gender socialization out of marriage particularly by married women. The study states that 30% of Kenyan children live in single parent families.
In many Kenyan communities, having a child out of wedlock is a source of shame and ladies will do all they can to hide this reality out of public eyes. In most cases, upon discovering they are expectant, the women will either procure life risking illegal abortions, relocate to an unfamiliar territory where no one will ask them questions, hide the pregnancy and the baby from public eyes, or box in a man to take responsibility over her and her unborn child. Many come we stay marriages begin this way and such an erratic foundation for a lifelong partnership reduces opportunities for mutual respect, trust and love. It should not surprise us therefore that Kenyans butcher each other inside them. This trend should change.
For a country that acknowledges the role of culture in shaping her civilization, allowing this mischief to continue sets a bad precedence. It is a wrong umbilical cord for any country to consistently base her regenerative potential. It amounts to corruption in all its forms. A child is an indigenous seed. Its genetic and other unique characteristics should facilitate the living on of the father in future generations even after he is long gone. It is expected to further the genealogy of the parent; of the father in a patriarchal society like Kenya. Dying with the assumption that you have left descendants behind when they are not yours is disrespectful and does not honor our fathers in their graves for their struggles, they put in to secure a future for this nation. It violates the spirits of our constitution in section 3b of the eleventh article which demands respect and protection of the uniqueness of such indigenous seeds and DNA. It does not respect Kenyan men.
To overcome this abuse, there is need for the Kenyan society, particularly the government, to expand access to DNA services by opening up DNA centres and subsidizing the cost of these services. Further, the government should do the right thing and make DNA testing mandatory at birth so that our children are brought forth on the path of truth. This will bring about transparency in the basic institution upon which our society is built; family. It will then make it easy for this transparency to blossom elsewhere in the society. This way, we will get back to being on the right track of ensuring that corruption is defeated in all its various other forms.
Additionally, having a DNA database is good for the country. It will help the country lower the currently explosive crime rates by making it easy to identify and zero down on criminals. Such practices help the government arrest the right criminals as opposed to putting the wrong people in custody for crimes they did not commit. It further saves us the embarrassment of having a population that does not know their identity with certainty and can only guess or suspect who their fathers and offsprings are based on the size and shape of their heads, the length, width and thickness of their of their noses, lips and eye lids, their height and complexion, and cooked up narrations on how their great grandparents looked on occasions when looks are incongruent. It also helps a society understand itself by knowing the genesis the behavior her people exhibit. This makes it easy to determine, plan for and prescribe controls for erratic behavior of a nation’s people across generations.
To say that confirming a child’s DNA at birth will break families is defeatist. There are very many Kenyan men who have voluntarily consented to bringing up children they did not sire. The bringing up of such a child should be consensual and based on the man’s willingness to do so. It should not be based on misinformation and deceit. DNA testing allows the child to access vital information which will allow him understand his physical, temperamental and health dynamics early enough and plan on how to cope with his realities. As such, the child is prepared to live his life based on truth. We cannot constantly tell our children to unearth their tax paying potential; talents, when we do not allow them to know where this potential comes from in the first place.
Many a Kenyan child have experienced hurt at adulthood on discovering that their lineage was corrupted and is not what they thought it to be all along. It brings so many changes in the child, siblings, relatives, friends, neighborhood, and particularly, the purported father’s life that are hard to stomach; the shame, the depressive thoughts, and the new journey of establishing one’s identity and relations so late in life. Such can be the reasons why we have many cases of suicide, family conflicts and divorce, and single parent families. Facilitating easy access to DNA services through subsidized costing can cure these and reduce the burden for putative father. In addition, it will open up a business line for the medical facilities conducting these tests by increasing demand. Established nations such as USA conduct subsidized DNA tests on their children to confirm paternity in occasions when the child is born abroad to confirm that they are genuine candidates for citizenship. It is a high time Kenya cooperated.