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Bangladeshi Mother Caned Over Paternity Testing Row

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In May 2009, a young Bangladeshi mother was caned 39 times after having been found guilty of lying about the paternity of her 6-year-old child.

Claiming that a neighbour was the father of her son, the 22-year-old unmarried woman from Comilla, which is located some 43 miles east of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, was issued with a fatwa by Islamic clerics in the village court. Although paternity testing was never carried out on the alleged father, it was sufficient for him to swear on the Koran that he was not the father in order for the clerics to find the young woman guilty of lying. Whilst most people in the western world would find this deeply disturbing, the incident also sparked outrage across Bangladesh, specifically in Dhaka. Indeed, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is reported to have demanded that the woman be transferred to a leading hospital in Dhaka and subsequently ordered a full inquiry.

Furthermore, according to the police chief in Comilla, Moshiur Rahman, two of the clerics who gave the fatwa were arrested on charges of repression of women and paternity testing will be carried out in order to determine the truth. With paternity testing readily available in most countries, it seems wholly unjustified to rely on the testimony of the accused who, in the present case, was only accused so far as the woman told her friends that he was the father. The fact that science can reliably answer a question of paternity that is nevertheless routinely ignored by hard-line religious authorities raises fundamental issues about the relationship between religion and science.

Indeed, paternity testing is not the favoured choice of certain religious officials because, quite simply, the bedrock of religion is faith. The stronger the faith, the stronger the certainty. Thus, if a man holds the Koran in one hand whilst solemnly pledging not to have done an accused act, it is on faith that his testimony will be accepted as fact. Obviously, there are considerable problems with this method of legal justice but it is also important to note that paternity testing does not provide a definitive answer of who the father is. In fact, paternity testing can only exclude the possibility of a male being the father with 100% certainty. Inclusion of a male candidate as the father of a child can only be determined to a certain level of probability, such as 99.99% or 99.9999%. In other words, there is a 0.01% (1 in 10,000) or 0.0001% (1 in 100,000) chance that another individual, randomly selected from the population, would produce the same paternity test results.

Nevertheless, paternity testing is an indispensable scientific aid to uncovering the real identity of fathers. Science strives for knowledge, understanding and objectivity - not always about 100% proof. Moreover, science aims to understand how and why things happen without concerning itself with irrelevant factors - for instance, paternity testing will exclude or include a father based on their DNA, not on whether they can swear on a holy text.


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