What is the crime if men seek confirmation that children are theirs?
by Barry Pearson
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Legislators face two key challenges. They must try to match new laws to undesired behaviour without side effects. And they must ensure that wrongdoing can be detected and prosecuted. This paper is restricted to unofficial paternity tests where the commissioner supplies one of the samples. The question posed by this paper is:

"What is the crime if men seek confirmation that children are theirs?"

The narrow view of this question is to decide what is bad behaviour, then to frame the law to convict such men. There are many options. The hard part is to detect and prosecute any crime defined by such laws. This paper describes many options for laws, and relates these to the likelihood that such laws could be policed. It also discusses approaches by other nations.

The wider view of this question is why should society legislate against their quest? What is inherently bad about their behaviour? What threat do they pose to innocent citizens? What threat do they pose to society? Who are their critics?

This paper is not the place to provide all the answers. But it gives some important clues. It shows the difficulty of detecting such actions. Yet no one has died. Hopefully, no one is living in fear. Where are the victims, if any? Why aren't they notifying the authorities of the crime? Why is it unlikely that all other nations will cooperate? What is the crime?

Sometimes victims of crimes only become visible later. Children who have been abused may be unable to speak at the time, but live with the mental scars for the rest of their lives. They may be able to trace their hardship back to someone who adversely impacted their lives. Who is coming forward to claim that they are the victims of unofficial paternity testing?

Unofficial paternity tests deliver knowledge about oneself. If the law bans them, this will be a rare example. It will be an example where seeking the truth about oneself is a crime. That is why policing it appears so hard. Policing is normally about physical things. It is physical to be robbed, or assaulted, or killed. It can be detected and policed. Paternity testing is about knowledge, and attempting to police the acquisition of knowledge requires "thought police".

A man may examine his wife's and child's blood groups. He may use the parent/child eye-colour-matching charts on the Internet. He may check his diary and realise he was out of the country at the likely time of conception. No one would make these actions illegal. So why would people want to make DNA paternity testing illegal? It alarms some people because:

  - It is cheap and easy.
  - It is very reliable.
  - It is unobtrusive and no one need find out.
  - It works retrospectively.

There is no international consensus that seeking paternity knowledge is wrong. It is at most a cultural matter. There is no international consensus that any one of the four key stages of the paternity testing process needs to be policed. This emphasises the importance of the question: what is the crime?

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Page last updated: 12 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003