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Controversial debate erupts over paternity testing in Uganda

Rising Paternity Testing Demand Sparks Concerns in Uganda.

The surge in Ugandan men opting for paternity tests has ignited fears of potential family breakdowns and lasting emotional scars for the children involved.

This contentious issue has taken center stage in the country’s discourse after a tabloid publication ran a story alleging that a prominent business magnate – known for having multiple wives and mistresses – had a fallout with one of his spouses. This incident supposedly led him to request paternity tests, revealing he was the biological father of only 15 out of 25 children he fathered across his various relationships.

The tycoon and his family have refrained from public commentary, and the accuracy of the report remains unverified.

Despite the lack of certainty, the story has rapidly spread, triggering extensive debate over the past several months. Lawmakers have entered the fray, making impassioned appeals for men to reconsider putting their families and children through the potential trauma of such tests.

Lawmaker Sarah Opendi, addressing the parliament, stated, “Let’s live like our forefathers lived. The child born in the house is your child.” She added that if a man chose to seek a paternity test, it should be conducted when the child is born, rather than later in life.

More alarmingly, the privately-owned Monitor newspaper reported instances of domestic violence linked to testing. The authorities arrested an Israeli national living in Uganda, alleging he killed his wife after DNA results indicated he was not the father of their six-month-old child. However, he has yet to be formally charged.

Simon Mundeyi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, revealed a significant tenfold increase in test requests. The process involves collecting DNA samples from both the father and child. He highlighted the rise from an average of 10 applicants per day at the government analytical lab to approximately 100 daily, with the numbers still growing.

Private clinics have also capitalized on this trend, advertising tests on taxi exteriors and billboards. This development has raised concerns about potential inaccuracies, particularly following reports of counterfeit testing kits being smuggled into Uganda.

To address these concerns, the Ministry of Health intervened by limiting testing to three state-run laboratories. However, the director of public health, Daniel Kyabayinze, pointed out that there was more hype on social media than an actual surge in testing.

Efforts are underway to ensure families receive proper counseling and psychological support alongside testing. Dr. Kyabayinze emphasized, “We want to make sure that [negative outcomes] don’t happen because of the result which is given.”

Public opinion in Uganda has remained divided throughout this heated debate, spanning from bars and Parliament to taxis and Twitter.

Advocates like Kampala resident Bwette Brian argued in favor of paternity tests, asserting, “I think the man has the right to know whether the children are his or not.”

Conversely, Tracy Nakubulwa, another resident, voiced dissent, claiming, “I have seen happy marriages and families separate all due to the issue of paternity testing – and children are becoming victims.”

Human rights activist Lindsey Kukunda noted the historical prevalence of women discreetly engaging in relationships with other men to provide their husbands with children. She underscored that when couples face infertility, it’s often the man who has reproductive issues. Despite this reality, in African culture, if a woman can’t conceive, she risks divorce or eviction.

Kukunda criticized husbands seeking paternity tests for double standards, pointing out that men frequently have extramarital affairs resulting in fathering children outside of their marriage. However, their wives often raise these children as their own.

Microbiologist Freddie Bwanga shared insights from his work at a state laboratory, where requests for testing haven’t drastically increased. He noted that 60-70% of tests establish a biological link between father and child. For the remaining 30-40%, the outcomes often aid in “settling children where they are born.”

Arguably, testing is preferable to relying on traditional practices such as floating the umbilical cord in water with cow fat to determine familial belonging.

Margaret Muhanga, Uganda’s state minister for primary health care, asserted there was no imperative for men to pursue paternity tests, suggesting that ignorance couldn’t harm them. She claimed that not knowing a child’s true parentage wouldn’t break one’s heart, while discovering the truth could.

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