What you need to know:
- Data from paternity testing centers indicate that more men are raising offspring that they didn't sire in their relationships.
- Paternity testing data from DNA Testing Services reveals that at least 30 percent of Kenyan men who walk into their center to verify paternity end up not being the biological fathers of the children they are raising.
Over the last ten years that she has been married, Perpetual Kathambi's marriage has been the envy of many. Perpetual and her husband David are seen as the perfect couple by many people. They love each other and have three beautiful children – two girls and a boy – and a pet dog named Whisky. They are also professed and baptised Christians with a beautiful home in the Kileleshwa area in Nairobi. But Perpetual, who works as a pharmacist at a city hospital, has been keeping a secret that could tear her marriage apart if it ever finds the light of day. "I had my third child out of wedlock," says Perpetual.
She had not entirely intended to get a child outside her marriage. Her union was in a bad season. "We were arguing a lot. Our intimacy levels were non-existent," she explains.
Two years ago at an evening party for one of her friends the ultimate temptation presented itself. "I was drinking and I was excited. I felt free. One drink led to another, and I found myself dancing with this guy," she says. "He was handsome, taller, and with broader shoulders than my husband. He had too much masculinity. He turned me on." Perpetual ended up sleeping with him. It was not too hard for her to pass the lie on to her husband. "I ensured that we were intimate," she says. Two years down the line, perpetual says that her third born son is taking after his biological father. "He seems domineering and fun to be around with." Perpetual has come to be at peace with her child and the betrayal. "He's a beautiful child. I don't regret having him but I can't disclose his paternity to my husband. I don't want to destroy my marriage," she says.
Data from paternity testing centers indicate that more men are raising offspring that they didn't sire in their relationships. Paternity testing data from DNA Testing Services reveals that at least 30 percent of Kenyan men who walk into their center to verify paternity end up not being the biological fathers of the children they are raising.
Online data from the Government Chemist estimates that at least half of men who go for paternity testing are proven to not be their children's biological fathers. However, the government's forensic scientist Dr John Mungai was yet to confirm this figure by the time of going to press.
The issue, however, is that paternity fraud could have dire legal consequences. Last month the High Court in Mombasa ordered that man in Mombasa get Sh700,000 as damages after he found out that he was not the biological father of the child he had raised with his ex-wife. This amount is compensation for the mental anguish, stress, and embarrassment after the DNA test. It also covers for the effort and money the man spent taking care of the child's mother during pregnancy and postnatal, as well as hospital delivery costs. This sum was to be paid by the child's biological father.
But if the risks are that high, why do women do it?
The age factor
There is a good chance that a woman may have a child out of wedlock after clocking the age of 35. Dr. Chris Hart, a psychologist and the author of Single & Searching. "They start to secretly take the kind of risks that can result in one night stands such as late-night clubbing and drinking," he says. He explains that this happens because, at these ages, they may fancy being with a bad guy they sexually admire but would never marry. This is why in certain relationships where the woman is slightly above these ages, the last born appears different from the other kids. He will be more exciting to be around with, rebellious, sociable, and outgoing. Coincidentally, Perpetual was 36 when she had her son out of wedlock.
Putting off marriage until later, as education and career take center stage could be another reason. "If a woman is not seriously thinking about marriage by the age of 30, chances are that the men who'd be eligible will move on and find other women who are ready to marry.
This may leave some women struggling to find a compatible and eligible husband," he says. One of the trickle effects of this could be a resolution to have a child but not necessarily a husband. This is echoed by Margaret Amisi, an Advocate of the High Court. "Times have changed. We now have the liberty to choose, and some of us are choosing to be parents," she says. Amisi is 34. "Having sex is no longer a taboo. It is an experience," she says. Amisi admits that while getting married is not part of her current plans, she wouldn't mind having a child, especially by one of her exes. "I have an ex whose child I'd really like to have. Not for attachment but for his genes. I want good looking and very intelligent kids and he has the right physical and mental combination," she says.
Some women have a child out of wedlock as a way of introducing new and stronger genes to their lineage. For example, a woman may desire for a child from another man whose genes imply that the child will be successful in life and have a superior biological ability to fight off a wider range of diseases. This is what pushed Nancy Wanjiku to get a child out of wedlock. "I love my husband but I also want healthy children who have a nose for success," she says. "My three boys are not aggressive at all. They aren't competitive. They are naturally too dull and withdrawn."
Nancy says that her husband's family lineage is prone to diabetes and poverty. "At least one of his brothers' kids has diabetes too," she says. At the same time, women who marry wealthy but bad looking men have been known to sire kids by better-looking men.
The escape route
But having a child out of wedlock does not start and end in marriage. Some women unknowingly get pregnant by deadbeat men. Priscilla Achola was 27 years old when this happened to her. At the time, she was working as an administrator in a private school in Nairobi when she met Jimmy. She was intensely attracted to him. "He was affluent and confident. I could not help falling for him. There was this charming element about him that made me crazy," she says. She believed that he loved her too and was ready to do everything to tie him down. But Jimmy only wanted a no-strings-attached relationship. Around this time, Priscilla met Thomas who worked as a legal research assistant at a city law firm. "We met at my workplace. He'd come to see my boss," she says. They exchanged contacts and became good friends.
But Thomas was romantically attracted to Priscilla and wanted a serious relationship that could lead to marriage. "He was a good man but I didn't love him. I loved Jimmy," she says. Priscilla and Jimmy's escapades led to pregnancy that Jimmy wanted nothing to do with. "I fell pregnant about two months after we started dating. When I told him about it, he said that he was not ready to be a father. He even claimed that there was no way he could be sure he was the father. He told me he never wanted to see me again," she says.
She was broken. She tried to reach out to him but he blocked her and even moved houses. "I was not prepared to raise a child by myself. I didn't want to procure an abortion either." Then she figured the best escape strategy. Thomas. She began accepting his dates and sleeping over at his place. "I figured that since he wanted me, I could as well fix him as the baby daddy, especially since I was in my first trimester and the pregnancy wasn't showing." A month later Priscilla told Thomas that she had fallen pregnant. "He was ecstatic and ready to commit and take responsibility. I had twin daughters who resembled me."
Surrogacy and culture
Surrogacy is emerging as an option for couples struggling to have kids. In places such as the United Kingdom where this practice is common, women, including the married, will carry a pregnancy for a couple in exchange for social benefits, money, or even citizenship. At the same time, women have opted to go out of marriage in search of a baby due to their husbands' infertility.
"Infertility, social pressure, and the ticking of their biological clock, especially if the woman is not open to adoption fuels this," sociologist Constance Mundia says.
Most communities have pre-colonial, historical, and cultural fables that show women having children out of wedlock.
"For example, the cultural fable of Gikuyu and Mumbi posits that the couple had ten daughters. Their tenth daughter is fabled to have borne a child out of wedlock," she says.
Takeaway: the rush for a DNA test
According to Kinyanjui Murigi, the director of DNA Testing Services, the commercialisation of parental responsibilities such as child support for kids born out of wedlock, physical resemblance, and rumours about the child's paternity are the primary reasons driving men to paternity centers. "Most men want to be sure before paying child support. Others do it out of fear that the child in question doesn't resemble them, while still others go for DNA to free themselves from entanglements and extortion," he says.