Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Times: ‘We must strengthen families’ ‘The traditional family model is changing’ [- President Abela]

Wednesday, 7th October 2009 by Fiona Galea Debono

The time was ripe for decisions to be made on family law, President George Abela suggested yesterday, questioning whether unions outside marriage should be recognised and cohabiting partners afforded similar marital rights.

He said he believed the sensitive subject of family law should be considered with empathy and compassion.

It was clearly understood that the family was composed of two married parents, a male and a female, and their offspring, and did not involve relationships between two men, or two women, he said quoting the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

But should the term “family” be used solely in the case of a couple that was officially married, he questioned, saying the answer had become a political priority.
Delivering the opening address of the Doha Colloquium on Strengthening Marriage and Family at the President’s Palace in Valletta, Dr Abela refrained from merely giving a general introduction.

He delved into the health and economic benefits of marriage and commented on the negative repercussions of divorce.

Married-parent families had a greater chance of contributing to safer and better communities, with less substance abuse and crime among youths, poverty and welfare dependency, he said.

Married parents were also more likely to produce young adults who viewed marriage positively and maintained life-long commitments.

“We must work hard to prevent family fragmentation because the consequences for children and society are severe,” Dr Abela said, quoting studies that have constantly shown children raised outside marriage suffered disproportionately from physical and mental illness among other disadvantages.

The family was a universal and irreplaceable community, rooted in human nature – the basis for all societies at all times – and it had to be strengthened, he insisted.
“It is through the breakdown of marriage that society is gravely harmed. The future of the nation depends on the creation of good marriages and good homes for children,” the president said.

Addressing the local situation, he said despite the increase in single-parent households and births outside wedlock sounding alarm bells, the marital bond was still strong, contrary to general perception.

But the family was also facing one of its greatest tests, influenced by Western lifestyles and society’s increasing secularisation. The traditional family model was changing, and whether its strong values would continue to resist the daunting challenges was a question mark.

“Of course, many hard-working single parents do an excellent job in raising children and need our support. But when a family breaks down, there are always negative outcomes for the children,” he said.

“Their feelings mirror those of children who have really lost a parent forever. But they are often underestimated and do not receive the same support,” Dr Abela continued.

“The trauma of a split can leave long-lasting effects on mental and physical health that remarriage may not repair,” he said.

The protection of the family was primarily the State’s responsibility, the President said, offering his suggestions, including the setting up and strengthening of structures, such as the National Commission for the Family.

The necessary resources would have to be allocated to the creation of a Commissioner for the Family and the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee for a holistic strategy in favour of marriage and family, he said.

Dr Abela also suggested considering more fiscal incentives for families with children below a certain income, and pointed out that the family therapy service provided by Appoġġ was overburdened and needed more investment.

Educating students on the importance of stable marriages could be part of the national curriculum, he recommended.

Married couples, with healthy relationship skills, could share their experiences through the media, and volunteers could speak at schools on the benefits of marriage.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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