The DNA of Moroccan Society

Street children are an unfortunately common presence on Morocco’s city streets. In many cases, the children are reportedly illegitimate and abandoned by unwed mothers with no father in sight. Police in Agadir believe they’ve found the answer to abandoned children— DNA testing.

DNA testing took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the United States, and it was initially used in forensic investigations. In more recent years, the ease of testing and its modest cost has allowed Americans to explore their ethnic origins. The revolution in DNA testing is not limited to the United States, though, and it has begun appearing in surprising places in the Middle East.

In Morocco, women’s rights activists have championed paternity testing as a way to ensure benefits for unmarried Moroccan women and their children. In 2017, Moroccan courts ruled that DNA testing could grant indemnity, inheritance, and other civil rights for a child born out of wedlock.

But it has not all been smooth sailing. Some of Morocco’s influential religious authorities have expressed deep discomfort with a pure reliance on DNA science. Islamic jurisprudence recognizes maternity as a biological affiliation but requires a “legal relationship” to prove paternity, and on that basis, the 2017 ruling was overturned. Moroccan lawmakers are sympathetic to the religious arguments as well as the scientific ones, and they are struggling to bridge the gap between the views.

That struggle manifests in sometimes unexpected ways. As early as 2014, the Moroccan government echoed Islamic scholars when it linked paternity testing to a degradation of “social order.” Yet when a young woman was reportedly tricked into engagement with a married Islamist politician last year, Moroccans rallied in favor of testing the paternity of the woman’s child. After a public scandal erupted over the birth of a daughter, Nour, out of wedlock last May, one newspaper article proudly stated, “We are all Nour.”

This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.