August 12, 2005
LONDON: It is a wise child who knows his own father, as Homer has it. But in Britain, Shakespeare’s aphorism may be more pertinent: it is a wise father who knows his own child.
Research suggests that, as cases of teenage pregnancies, sexual infidelity and multiple partners increase, one in 25 fathers could unknowingly be raising another man’s child.
With improvements in genetic testing, thousands of fathers every year are discovering that “their” child is someone else’s. A study by scientists from Liverpool John Moores University concludes that 4per cent of all men are unwittingly bringing up a child they have not fathered.
Of the men who demand a paternity test because they suspect infidelity, one in four have their suspicions confirmed.
The team gives warning that the trend, known as “paternal discrepancy”, poses serious implications for the future of the family.
Paternity tests have also featured in high-profile disputes involving celebrities and politicians.
This year, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, learned that he was not the father of the latest child of his former lover, Kimberly Quinn.
Actor Liz Hurley won child support for her son Damian after tests proved that Steve Bing, a millionaire television producer, was his father.
Recent scientific advances have resulted in a boom in the use of DNA profiling and genetic testing, which is relied on in areas such as organ donation and criminal investigations.
They are also being used by a growing number of men keen to have access to a child or to disprove a claim for child support made against them.
An estimated 10,000 paternity tests are carried out each year. While many of the checks are conducted under the scrutiny of the Child Support Agency or the courts, there are an increasing number of internet DNA-testing services available.
The researchers, led by Mark Bellis, of the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool, analysed a wide range of international studies, looking at estimates of paternal discrepancy between 1950 and last year.
Their findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, show that rates of cases where a father was not the biological father of his child ranged from 1per cent in some studies to as many as 30per cent. Experts generally agree that the rate was below 10per cent.
“For any father, identifying that the child they are raising as their biological progeny is actually sired by another man can have substantial health consequences,” the researchers said.
“Such knowledge can also destroy families, affecting the health of the child and mother as well as that of any man who is ultimately identified as the biological parent.”
Suspected infidelity, as a result of a man finding out that a child is not his own, can lead to domestic violence.
Genetic tests can be carried out using hair or a mouth swab sent to laboratories by post.
The researchers said in a society where services and life decisions were increasingly influenced by genetics, this difficult issue could not be ignored.