What is the crime if men seek confirmation that children are theirs?
by Barry Pearson
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Policing the provision of paternity testing services

The UK government can regulate service providers based in the UK. The government does not have jurisdiction over service providers elsewhere. The government probably cannot hide foreign services that advertise over the Internet from UK citizens [3]. It can only influence whether those service providers accept UK customers by agreements, not by UK law. There are perhaps eighty or more such service providers visible on the Internet. They are based in ten or more countries. About five out of six such services are based outside the UK.

There is nothing like a Hague Convention to draw upon [4]. Could the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child be used? Or could it be extended? There are two problems with this. The first is that the UN considers it to be in the interests of children to know their biological parents. The second is that the United States hasn't ratified that UN Convention.

The FBI ran Operation Candyman to monitor child pornography services in the US. They reported UK customers to UK authorities, and this initiated Operation Ore. But societies will not criticise people who commission paternity tests in the way that societies criticise people who commission child pornography. There are two fundamental reasons for this:

  1. Child pornography is considered to be unconditionally wrong. There are no official child pornography services run by the government. It isn't just unofficial child pornography services that are seen to be wrong.
    Paternity testing is not considered to be unconditionally wrong. There are official paternity tests used by the government. Sometimes government policy needs accurate identification of parentage. It is mainly the personal use of tests that some people think is wrong, not paternity tests themselves.
  2. Legal sanctions against child pornography are applied against people that society easily judges are in the wrong. They are against people who make child pornography, and those who buy it. This appeals to people's sense of justice.
    Legal sanctions against people who commission paternity tests would not be against clear wrongdoers. Perhaps a mother committed adultery that resulted in a child. She deceived the husband, and probably the child and other people too. Yet some people want to apply legal sanctions against the perceived victims, the man and/or child.

The Government accepts the view established by the Courts that it is generally in a child's best interest to know the truth about their biological origins [5]. It is unlikely to seek international agreements that paternity tests are generally wrong.

Any country connected to the Internet, with postal and financial services, can host paternity testing services. Should putative fathers be forced to use unregulated foreign services?


[3] Australia attempts a form of Internet censorship for certain activities it bans such as interactive gambling.

[4] The relevant Hague Conventions on Private International Law tend to deal with parents or children moving between countries (maintenance, adoption, parental responsibility, etc).

[5] Government Response To The HGC's Report: Inside Information: Balancing Interests In The Use Of Personal Genetic Data, John Reid, 24th June 2003.

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Page last updated: 13 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2003