Paternity Issues In Zambian Culture

Richard Katebe-KitweOnline

Richard Katebe-KitweOnline


If a law was passed for mandatory paternity tests to be done for all living Zambian children, do you know that it could affect the relationship between a father, his children and their mother forever?

Did you know that the child you believe is yours might not be your biological child at all?

Do you know why in some old Zambian traditions, only nephews and not your children could inherit   your estate?

It is said that only the woman knows the real biological father of her child. Because the burden of proof of fatherhood lies in the hands of the woman in the traditional sense, it is probably the reason why nephews inherited their uncle’s property. This tradition was premised on the fact that the blood relationship between a man and his sister’s child could not be doubted because it was apparent that his sister indeed carried the pregnancy that bore the child. The fact that a man and his sister were born of the same womb and suckled from the same breast means that his nephews were indeed his blood relations.

It is an old African tradition to encourage a man to consider every each child born by his wife before and during the marriage, regardless of who the biological father is, as his own child. Could this have been a wise strategy to prevent the breakdown of marriages on account of a man’s lack of certain knowledge of the blood relationship between him and his wife’s children?   

When two people are joined together in marriage, the people around them rejoice greatly. They are happy to render their support to the couple at their wedding and afterwards.

In marriages that are persuaded by traditional practices, a newly married couple is accompanied by marriage counselors on their very first night together. There are two main objectives of this practice. The first is to ascertain whether the bride is a virgin and worth the bride price demanded for her. The second is to determine whether the groom is potent, that is, capable of fathering children.

The newly married couple is put in a room with a bed covered by clean linen. They are instructed to make love during the night. The accompanying marriage counselors ‘stealthily’ listen in to the goings on in the couple’s bedroom from an adjacent room. After making love, the bride collects the groom’s semen on a white clean handkerchief and carefully folds it before handing it over to the marriage counselors the following morning.

The counselors then inspect the bed linen and examine the contents of the handkerchief. The bride is considered a virgin if the bed linen is stained by blood spots. The groom is considered fertile if the semen sticks to the handkerchief and firmly holds the folded handkerchief together.

When a groom has been ‘certified’ fertile, his spouse is expected to become pregnant within a reasonable period of time from the commencement of the marriage. If this happens, it is assumed that the groom is the one who is responsible for the pregnancy.

The possibility of infidelity on the part of the bride is never entertained due to the strict progamme of counseling that is conducted for the couple during the period preceding the marriage. The traditional teachings imparted during the counseling sessions centre on the need for the bride to abstain from adultery at all costs. The consequences of adultery are graphically portrayed to the young couple. These include the possible death of the bride’s child during birth, and indeed of herself.

Even today, it is taken for granted that the husband of the woman is the child’s biological father if a couple does not struggle to bear their first child. Accordingly, men, whose wives fall pregnant within a reasonable period after getting married, take it for granted that they are fertile. It is argued that since the marriage is new, chances of the wife’s infidelity are very low. After all, the couple is assumed to be still burning with love for each other. Moreover, it is thought too early for the marriage to be affected by external pressures from the environment and the people around them.

However, when a couple takes long to produce a child, pressure is brought to bear on them from their relatives and friends.  

Women are often the victims. In Zambian society, women are largely perceived to be the cause of childlessness in marriage. The man’s fertility is usually never questioned. Therefore, the pressure heavily weighs on the wife. She becomes the source of ridicule by friends and neighbors who believe that she cannot bear a child for her husband due to her barrenness.

A man may even be tempted to engage in a sexual relationship with another woman in order to prove that he can sire a child. In some instances, relatives have gone to the extent of finding another woman for the man to bear a child for him. This brings a sense of insecurity in the wife. In trying to secure her marriage, she may decide to have sex with another man so that she can bear a child for her husband in order to preserve her marriage.

A child from a secret extra marital relationship has been known to help bring about peace and security in a marriage. The concerned husband has been led to believe all his life that he was indeed the biological father of the child.

Such problems that border on infidelity can be avoided if couples are willing to work together to find a solution to their childlessness. A visit to a medical specialist can do much to help. The couple can be medically examined to determine their fertility. Treatment can be given to help improve a couple’s fertility and enhance their chances of having their own biological child. A man who has taken fertility tests will know in a more certain way his fertility status. Fertility tests are available in most health institutions in this country.

Men should take deliberate measures to take fertility tests. Some authorities on male infertility have stated that a man’s sperm count may be high or low from time to time depending on certain conditions and factors. This may cause difficulties in a man’s effort to help his wife get pregnant.

Working hand in hand with your wife in finding a solution to your male infertility is such a good thing; for how can your wife sneak in a pregnancy from an outsider if, as a result of your taking a fertility test,  she is fully aware that you are not capable of making babies?

A fertility test is one sure way that a man can know whether he is capable of being a biological father of a child or not. It is preferable to the traditional method referred to above which does not prevent the possible agony of later discovering that you have been a guardian of another man’s children all your life.


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