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OPINION: Goal line technology, DNA profiling and why the adults in the room must hear the children



TWITTER: @Jonekyoma

Decades after most sports like tennis, cricket and athletics had accepted sports officiating technology, football resisted goal line technology. The lawmaking body of FIFA, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) resisted amending the rules to allow for it.

Many reasons, perhaps excuses, were made for the resistance; it would unnecessarily interrupt the natural rhythm of the game, errors of human judgment added excitement, controversy, and entertainment to the game. Besides, it was argued, technology also has its own errors. Further that mathematical exactness would reduce the beloved game to a robotic video game with the reduced human factor in officiation.

Those for and against goal line technology cited the mercurial Argentine, Diego Maradona’s “hand of god” goal against England in the 1986 world cup quarter-final match interestingly, in support of their opposite cases.

As controversial refereeing decisions on whether the ball had crossed the goal line kept coming, so did the clamour for the introduction of goal line technology to decide such questions beyond any shadow of doubt.

What use were the rules of the game if they were not meant to be followed? Would that not be like what traffic laws and regulations are to boda-boda riders in Kampala?

FIFA experimented with goal line technologies in trial tournaments in the mid-2000s. Eventually, IFABbent to the inevitable, it amended the rules and goal line technology was officially introduced in the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.

Since then, this technology has become standard in the Premier League and all European leagues since 2013/14.Not just that, professional football hasadded the (in)famous Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to the myriad of tracking devices and technology that now define the modern game.

Technology always wins!

The history of introduction of goal line technology seems to echo in our current obsession with DNA profiling in proof of genetic paternity.

In recent weeks, Uganda mainstream and social media cannot seem to move on from what some commentators have described as the “everywhereness” of DNA testing.

Like goal line technology to controversial goals, the need for DNA profiling to determine paternity does not arise unless, and until there is need to resolve a paternity controversy.

In  competitive sports, the best way to avoid controversy is;to put the ball all the way in the back of the net, to be at least half a meter ahead of your chasing opponent in a race, or to do as president Idi Amin advised the Bombers when they were preparing for the 1974 world boxing championships in Cuba, “don’t aim to win by points because you will be cheated. Knock out your opponents!”

Similarly, where no doubt arises as to the paternity of a child, often because of the undeniable physical resemblance to the father, what is there to doubt and therefore to prove?

The most likely explanation for the reportedly high number of DNA profiled subjects turning out to be genetically unrelated, if true, might be down to the likelihood of there being a fire where there is smoke.

As for the technologies themselves, it is generally accepted that save for human error, they are foolproof. They are a solution not the problem. That is why those opposed to them do not challenge the technology itself. Their concerns are with other things.

I cannot see how we can still avoid using technology to help resolve paternity disputes when it permeates all other areas of the modern human experience. How can we tell distances, calories, heart rates, locations, biometrics, and follow the flight path of airplanes in real time with mathematical exactness and yetveil the determination of paternity in the mysticism and taboos of medieval times?

From a social-economic and political standpoint, we cannot see moral and governance regimes built on transparency, accountability, honesty, authenticity and yet somehow find a round-about when it comes to deciding questions of genetic patrilineal relationships.

Resistance to change and especially that wrought by technology is to be expected as a rule. However, that denial curve always has only one possible end, acceptance! Do you remember the shift from analog televisions to digital ones?

The concern for me in this DNA public conversation is that the adults in the room are guilty of the stereotype that in Africa, children are only to be seen and not to be heard.

The conversations are saturated with concerns, cares, egos and interests of the women and the men in parental disputes. Almost nothing is heard from, of and for the children at the center of paternity disputes.

Lawyers will have learnt, as a rule of thumb, that in matters concerning children, their welfare and best interest is the primary consideration.

As far as we can tell the children’s best interest from the written law, the very first clause of the provision of the Constitution on the rights of children enacts that children shall have the right to know and to be cared for by their parents. I add, not those they honestly but mistakenly believe to be so. The law defines only two pathways to parenthood: biology or adoption.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 sounds in the same terms as our Constitution on the point.

Can it be in the best interest of a child, to lead him or her to believe that a man who is not their genetic father, is? In other words, would this be a “benevolent lie,” a “white lie” if you are racist. Is it the case of doing a “small wrong” to do a “big right” all for the best interests of the child?

The correct answer to this question does not always coincide with what situation better assures the material comforts of the child.

To illustrate, a few years ago, an international adoptions scandal played out in our courts leading the United States of America to sanction two Ugandan judges and two lawyers.

The long and short of it is that the sanctioned people were found to have fraudulently caused materially poor rural women to give up their natural children for adoption to well-meaning American couples on the promise of a good life and better future for the children in America.

The consciences of several of the American adoptive parents involved led them to question whether these mostly illiterate Ugandan mothers fully understood and truly consented to what was going on. They reported the matter to the authorities and the result was the previously mentioned sanctions.

But apart from that, several of the children involved, having even tasted the “good life” in America and contrasted it with the typically punishing conditions of a Ugandan village, explicitly said that they would very much rather live with their poor parents in Uganda. Several of them were brought back home.

Although this was not a genetic parent controversy, it illustrates the fact that children are not always as materialistic as adults. Material well being is not the compass by which decisions affecting children must always be led. Being tied to a man as your father simply because he is rich is not always a clever idea.

Quite apart from us lawyers, psychologists must also take the microphone and add to that long treatise of Prof. Paul Job Kafeero (RIP) “Buladina” in educating us on what the likely psychological effects on a person can be when they only learn in adulthood that the man they were led to believe, all their lives, to be their genetic father, is not.

What is the psychological impact on downloading this information on toddlers, older children, teenagers, and young adults? Would this problem not be solved, by providing this information only in the infancy of the child?

When it comes to knowing who one’s blood parents are, ignorance may not exactly be bliss.

Uganda law considers knowing one’s genetic parents such an important matter that the Children Act, Cap 59 dedicates an entire Chapter to enabling people including children to prove this fact through a Court process known as “declaration of parentage”.

As the law obsesses with it, “the best evidence” in a declaration of parentage is DNA profiling. Why would one consider indirect and circumstantial evidence when they can scientifically hear it from the horse’s own mouth?

I am aware of only one instance where DNA profiling will not be of much use. This is when the question of genetic paternity arises between blood brothers (same biological mother, same biological father) in respect of a male child.

In that case, the brothers have precisely the same genetic information i.e., 50% from their father and 50% from their mother. The Y chromosome profiles of the brothers are practically identical. That is all they can give to the child in issue; it is a dead heat; it is a tie that DNA profiling cannot resolve.

Then and only then, does science bear out our ancestors’ social rule that our brothers’ children are indeed our children.

If thesaid brothers must continue to split the atom to find out what came first, the egg or the chicken, should they resort back to the circumstantial evidence of who was where with whom at what time, relative to the date of birth of the child in issue.


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