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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Need a Visa? Try a DNA Paternity Test

For women not sure whose child they are carrying, or for men not sure whose child calls them "Papa," a DNA paternity test can be just the answer.

DNA paternity testing is one of many modern technologies quickly moving into the lives of average Russians. At least four laboratories in Moscow provide paternity tests -- pre- and postnatal -- and staff say there are enough doubting Thomases to provide clients for them all.

Some Russians have used paternity tests to sort out immigration problems or prove to consulate officials that their child is really theirs and thus should be given a visa.

"We have all sorts of people coming in," said Igor Kondratyev, deputy director of the Moscow City DNA Testing Center. "Some are seeking answers for legal battles over child custody or child support payments, some to resolve jealousy, some, although it may sound strange, just for the fun of it."

Kondratyev said about one-third of his clients are men who want to have their child tested without the mother's knowledge. "I try to warn them that the step is serious and it could be that in the end the mother would have to be informed, but they come anyway," he said.

The motives of those who come for paternity testing are diverse and their stories say something about the society we live in.

Ilya Barkov works at the Academy of Medical Science's Center of Midwifery and Gynecology, where he does prenatal paternity tests as early as the ninth week of pregnancy.

"Often it is a question of having an abortion or keeping a baby," Barkov said. "And out of about 40 tests we did, in 20 we literally prevented abortions, as mothers-to-be were reassured that the babies they were bearing were from the right man."

In more unpleasant circumstances, paternity testing can put the mind at ease of a woman who fears she may be bearing the child of a rapist.

"We had a woman who was sexually assaulted by two men," Barkov said. "At the same time she and her husband were planning to have a baby, so the woman was not on any contraceptives and she became pregnant."

Luckily Barkov's test showed that the child was fathered by her husband.

"We just offer women a choice in what would otherwise most likely be a no-choice situation leading to an abortion," he said.

The number of people requesting paternity tests is growing, but for many the cost is still prohibitively high, Barkov said. Prenatal testing, which is a more complicated procedure, costs about $500, he said.

Barkov told the story of how DNA testing helped a pregnant woman who in the past year was denied entry to Switzerland for her own wedding.

"She was due to marry a guy there, but returned to Moscow to get invitations and visas for her parents," Barkov said. "When the time came for her to head to Switzerland, her pregnancy had become more obvious, and she was told by Swiss authorities to stay in Moscow until the baby was born. Only after the father had confirmed that the child was his would she be allowed to go through all necessary immigration procedures -- this time including the child in the papers."

A solution was found, however. The Swiss father-to-be flew to Moscow to have paternity tests, and after it became clear the child was actually his, the pregnant woman was allowed to enter Switzerland.

Many Western embassies will accept DNA tests from immigration applicants as a means of proving such a family relationship, though they cannot require applicants to undergo the test. U.S. embassies, for example, are instructed to advise applicants that they may offer the results of a DNA test as evidence to support their application, if the consular officer decides that "other available evidence is insufficient to meet the applicant's burden of proof."

As strange as it may seem, some Western studies suggest that one out of every 10 children is not the biological offspring of the man officially recognized as the father.

One such study is Robin Baker's 1996 book "Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex," which looks at the subject from a demographic angle: "Some men ... have a higher chance of being deceived than others -- and it is those of low wealth and status who fare worst.

"Actual figures range from 1 percent in high-status areas of the United States and Switzerland, to 5 to 6 percent for moderate-status males in the United States and Great Britain, to 10 to 30 percent for lower-status males in the United States, Great Britain and France. Moreover, the men most likely to sexually hoodwink the lower-status males are men of higher status."

There are no such statistics available for Russia, but doctors say it is probably no different here.

In DNA paternity testing, the DNA pattern of the child, assumed father and mother are compared. Basic biology suggests that the child inherits half of its genes from each parent. While the mother's biological relation to the offspring is taken for granted, doctors look for similarities between the father's and child's DNA.

If the man is not the father, the differences are striking, completely excluding biological relation. If the results are positive, doctors calculate the probability of paternity according to the statistical frequency of the matching sequences of the DNA in the general population. They can then offer the probability of paternity as a percentage.

The current percentage accepted by law in developed countries is anything over 99.75 percent, which legally stands as "fatherhood practically proved." Put another way, it means that the chance of someone else fathering the child is one in tens of thousands.

Further accuracy can be achieved by comparing more sections of the DNA, especially those that occur rarely. Such a procedure can usually decrease the chances of statistical error to one in 10 million or even 100 million.

Kondratyev, who has been providing his DNA testing services since the mid-1990s, once tested a man whose partner was stripped of custody of their child because of alcoholism. The couple was not married and the father's name was not on the 5-year-old boy's birth certificate. In the absence of another legal custodian, the boy was sent to an orphanage.

By having a DNA test, the man managed to prove his kinship to the child and is now taking care of him.

"We also occasionally have couples who just come and laughingly say that they want to finally find out 'whose child it is, after all,'" Kondratyev said. "And they usually take the answer easily, whether the man does or doesn't turn out to be the biological father."

Most men, however, take the matter more seriously and want to make sure they are the biological father of their child, even if this means having the testing done without the mother's knowledge.

Technically it is possible to do a paternity test without a sample from the mother, but experts say the precision of the results drops.

Some men bring in their wives' hair or even used sanitary pads, said Ilya Yefremov, a geneticist who conducts tests at the State Genetics Research Institute.

While Kondratyev only does tests on blood samples, Yefremov occasionally agrees to use less typical materials such as saliva and hair follicles.

"There is certainly a demand for such tests," Yefremov said. "People sometimes call for months with various inquisitive questions, and then go and do the test in more than one place, just to make sure there are no mistakes."

For some men, finding out they are not the biological father presents a dilemma. Often the bond they have formed with the child is too strong to break, Kondratyev said.

"I often suggest they tear up the results of the tests and try to go on with their lives as if nothing ever happened," he said.