By Mpho Kuhlmann
Batswana are generally cynical sceptics when it comes to children’s paternity, and mothers have the worst of it. This is cynicism is captured in the popular Setswana proverb: “Ngwana o itsiwe sereto ke mmagwe” which loosely translates to “only a mother knows her child’s paternity.”
Paternity fraud in Botswana is the big elephant in the living room that no one wants to talk about, but scratch the surface and you reveal a national cesspool of deep dark secrets.
Forensic & Allied Services Managing Director David Sethatho told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that the handle requests for paternity tests almost every day.
“We offer a non-invasive method which is done through swabbing to get a sample but we predominantly do the finger pricking method where we take a tiny amount of blood as a sample. This is an easier method.” He says they stress that for a paternity test to be done the mother of the child must be in agreement as well as be present when the test is being done. “We have had cases where a father sneaks the child away to come and get a test done without the mother’s knowledge. We also get consent from the courts as in most cases the family court will grant an order for a paternity test to be done on a child. “Mr Sethatho says their paternity tests cost P3, 500.00 and results come out after 10 working days.
Paternity fraud occurs when a mother tricks a man into believing that he is the biological father of her child. In some cases, the mother is fully aware that the man is not biologically linked to the child. In other cases, she only suspects that her child is not genetically linked to the father she named on the birth certificate.
The deception is often contrived in an attempt to score higher child support benefits than can be provided by the biological father. Or better yet, to hide infidelity. In some cases, mothers take these secrets with them to the grave.
Thabiso Gulubane of Maphakwane & Associates in Gaborone says paternity fraud, “is not necessarily a criminal offence but you have a remedy under civil law to sue for damages because someone has induced you to pay for something when they didn’t have the right to do that. There may be a high incident of paternity fraud and generally men don’t know because they don’t have access to DNA testing because they have to pay for it. Not everyone can afford that so it is very likely that there are many men out here who are paying for kids that aren’t theirs.” He says they are handling a similar case at the moment where a man has taken a woman to court over paternity fraud. ”I can’t quite divulge the information but I can tell you that the man has sued for damages and the woman will pay.
Paternity fraud often goes undetected for years. Sometimes it comes to light after medical records reveal that the child cannot possibly be related to the man attributed as the biological father. Many of the men accept the responsibility of being the caretaker because it is much more affordable than getting tangled in a court battle. Some men have voiced that even when a DNA test proves the impossibility of fatherhood; it is still really difficult to get out of child support once it has been established. Money and stability are influencing factors for young mothers who are unsure who the father is, they often say they thought they were doing the best thing for their child by choosing the guy who was more financially stable and able to pay child support, or the guy who was more likely to want to be involved in the child’s upbringing. Others didn’t want to ruin a stable romantic relationship with the ‘father’ and therefore kept their doubts to themselves.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says it hardly needs stating that this is scandalous. “To put the interests of the child above the father’s right to know may sound benign but it is deeply pernicious. Imagine a man whose bank account is covertly robbed to pay for the upbringing of a child with whom he has no kinship. To inform the man of the fraud would clearly be contrary to the interests of the child. Would we really say that he should not be told?” In some cases these children come as a result of rape so it would be wise for such a person affected to try and understand their mother’s stand on never letting them know of their biological father because probably they also never knew him.
Seeking counselling is often the best step such people should consider and this not only the victim but the parents involved also need to talk to someone on how to go about this situation.
Malebogo Seitshiro, a final year student at the University Of Botswana says paternity fraud could quite possibly hurt families. “When paternity is in question, it can send families into a tail spin. Many couples find themselves divorcing over the mere question of whether or not the child is the husband’s. For unmarried men, who may or may not be the father of the child in question, the legal road is a bit more challenging. It’s a piece of information that could destroy a family and it would only be shared if there was no choice.”
Omphile Baleseng works at Furniture Mart in Gaborone says the reason most men leave upon finding out about the paternity fraud is because they have been lied to.” I don’t mind raising another man’s child as long as I do so knowingly. If I found out that I was a victim of paternity fraud the hardest part for me would be to trust my partner again. It would be such a difficult situation for me ÔÇô do I let go of a child who I’m now attached to?”