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More couples turn to DNA tests in Shenzhen
Updated: 2005-05-29 14:59

Tears welled up in Mr. Zhang's eyes as he collapsed on a sofa, holding the results of a DNA test that said his 5-year-old son was fathered by another man.

Zhang, a pudgy man with a crew cut, was one of the latest customers of a growing business in China, where more men are paying to prove their children's identities. He declined to give his full name.

DNA testing is becoming popular because more can afford it and extramarital affairs are rising in China's rapidly developing society, said Wang Shayan, the director at the DNA clinic at Shenzhen People's Hospital, where Zhang got his results.

"My heart aches," Zhang moaned as he sat, seemingly dazed, at the DNA-testing clinic in Shenzhen, a Chinese boomtown just across the border from Hong Kong. "I can't hold this report in my hand. It's a great shame to our family. I can't face it."

There are three authorized DNA testing clinics in this city of 12 million people. One has a giant billboard ad that shows a woman and child and reads, "DNA parentage testing center confirms your identity."

The aggressive marketing has apparently worked, with business taking off since the second half of 2004, said Zhang Baohua, manager of the Guangdong Taitai DNA clinic _ the first private center set up in China after the government let commercial companies enter the business in 2002.

Zhang said about 250 families have taken the tests so far this year, compared to 100 for the same period in 2004.

"More people have become aware of the test," he said. "Some have had their doubts for years, and had no means of resolving them. Now, they have found a solution."

The walls at Wang's clinic _ once a daycare center _ are still painted with piglets and ducks.

She said the clinic has conducted paternity tests for 158 couples in the first five months this year, up 28 percent over the same period last year.

Many are husbands who suspect their wives have betrayed them, Wang said. They pay a hefty price for the truth; tests for a couple and a child cost 3,900 yuan (US$471) in a city where office workers earn an average monthly salary of 4,000 yuan (US$483) to 6,000 yuan (US$725).

Numerous migrant workers in Shenzhen are also having tests to get their children permits to live in this prosperous area, said Wu Guoguang, director of Shenzhen's first paternity test center, the Shenguang Forensic Authentication Institute.

Authorities require the test to prove parent-child blood ties, he said. Birth certificates are often forged.

Shenzhen was a pioneer in DNA paternity test service in China. The clinics first became popular with customers from neighboring Hong Kong.

Many affluent Hong Kong men have either married mainland Chinese women, or kept them as mistresses in parts of Shenzhen dubbed "second wives' villages." Many of the mistresses have borne the men's children.

But with Hong Kong's economy in the doldrums in recent years, money has not flowed as freely as before into the mistresses' hands. Some cash-strapped women have juggled several patrons, while others simply had affairs as their relationships soured with their Hong Kong providers.

Wang said about 21 percent of her clients are now Hong Kongers _ many of whom suspect their mainland mistresses are fooling around. Another 12 percent are Taiwanese.

Jealous men initiate most of the cases. But some mistresses with several patrons also seek help to determine who is the real father of their children.

If the father is wealthy, the mistress often gets a bigger apartment or pricier car, Wang said.

Many Hong Kong fathers use the tests to fulfill immigration requirements for getting Hong Kong residency rights for their mainland-born children, Wu said.

An 80-year-old Hong Kong man, who only gave his surname, Ng, is one of them. At the clinic, his 3-year-old daughter wails as a worker draws blood from her arm. His 6-year-old son is also there for a test. Both children were borne by his mainland mistress.

"Their mother died in a car accident, and I want to bring them to Hong Kong," Ng says.

Several medical workers busily analyze dozens of blood samples in the clinic's laboratories. Wu's 12-member team conducts paternity tests for about 300 families a year.

Results usually come in two to three days, but the tests are repeated several times to ensure accuracy, Wu said.

A medical worker at Wu's clinic, Cheng Lianghong, said many paternity conflicts stem from misunderstanding.

Some fathers are suspicious because they think their children don't resemble them, he said.

However, "almost in nine out of 10 cases, the suspicion turns out to be false," he said.

He said their clinic tries to persuade couples to avoid the tests whenever possible.

"Whenever there are humans involved, there is a chance of making mistakes," Cheng said. "The process will leave a negative impact on the child being tested, and a false result will be devastating to a family."

But Wu said the tests shouldn't be blamed for broken relationships.

"You can't say a paternity test is good or bad," Wu said. "It is simply a scientific tool that is bound to emerge in a modern society."

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