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Penny Booth: Things to worry about...

Date:13 JUL 2010

Things to worry about...

Penny BoothI see that there has been a dramatic increase in forced marriages - among men.

What a surprise to find that something one thinks of as been a female preserve is not so after all. Equality has its disadvantages. I support the view that we should all ensure that we do whatever we can to prevent this dreadful form of abuse of human rights within families. It is not ‘custom' because religions forbid the forcing of marriage upon an individual and require free agreement all round. To say that it is a custom belonging to particular religious or ethnic groups is merely to hide behind political correctness and ignore the obligations arising from having standards of freedom and human rights that are deserving of protection for the sake of us all. To do otherwise is damaging to the family and the individual.

I see that marriage per se does not save us from domestic heebie-jeebies, either. What a shame - I was really looking for the quick-fix for social problems and thought that we had found it. However -

"Marriage per se does not contribute much to making relationships more stable when children are young, according to new research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Of course not! To make a relationship work takes years of hard work (without a guarantee of success) and no piece of paper will do that. The report goes on -

"Parents who are cohabiting when their child is born are three times more likely to split up by the time their child is five than married parents. However they are also typically younger, less well off, less likely to own their own homes, have fewer educational qualifications and are less likely to plan their pregnancies than married people. Once these differences between the two groups are accounted for, the difference in the likelihood of separation falls to just two percentage points.

"The IFS analysis shows that relationship stability is mainly determined not by marriage but by other factors such as age, education, occupation and income, and delaying and planning pregnancy. These factors are also influential in whether people choose to marry or not."

So, in reality, it is age, education, occupation and income, alongside delaying starting a family that makes all the difference. I think it's a pity that I even hesitate to add ‘love' or ‘respect' to that list. Not so easy to measure, perhaps, but without it we'd all be in an even bigger mess.

The newspapers had touches of the heebie-jeebies this week after last week's story on the children cycling to school ‘alone' (horror). I personally saw only one commentary that thought the parents were silly / dangerous to allow their young children to cycle the mile to primary school alone. I think we need to reclaim the streets for the sensible among us. If there are no cycle lanes then children are unable to use the road with the degree of safety required - as are the rest of us with cycles. If the pavement is wide enough, let them use it so long as they can ride the bike - if we don't let them, they never will be able to use it properly without hitting pedestrians!

Whilst on about that story, I see the Sunday Times has more on the issue this week (11 July, 2010) in its News Review on ‘cotton-wool kids'. Something of a contrast is found at the bottom of the page in the Sunday Times proper (page 1, continuing on page 25) which has a story about children working in sweat shops in India for around 7 pence an hour and one case specifically of a very young boy doing so on behalf of his widowed mother for a working week that approaches 100 hours. They are making cheap napkin rings that will sell in the UK this year in a well-known high street ‘cheap' shop. If you really believe in looking after children then let's ensure that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child means something by dealing with child labour and the poverty in families that creates this kind of obscenity in the third world. Cycling to school issues has its place, so let's keep them in it.

The differences for children on this earth are fantastical and very hard to believe; on the one hand there is that Indian boy working more hours that one can imagine each week because his widowed mother is too poor to keep him, and on the other we are told of the famous footballer who has become a father for the first time with a son, the newspapers tell us, born of a surrogate mother. The footballer's son will lack for nothing and have all his material wants supplied - and I dare say that there will be many female relatives who will take the place, at least partly, of his mother, and he will grow up surrounded by the footballer's own family and his earnings from an over-hyped game. I would not wish to explain to a child the ‘how' and ‘why' of either situation.


Penny Booth is running the Great North Run for Age UK on 19 September, 2010. This is a half marathon and should she manage to complete the 13.1 miles then please coinsider giving a donation to Age Uk via www.justgiving.com/PennyBooth

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.