Proposal for children to veto divorces

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The Independent Online
A CHILD should be allowed to veto a decision by its parents to get divorced or have an abortion, according to a controversial new report from the think-tank Demos.

They should also be given a vote from birth, administered for them by their mother until they are 16, according to the study which argues for radical policies to strengthen the family.

The report was yesterday condemned as "totally unrealistic" and charities warned it was putting too much of a burden on children to expect them to sort out their parents' marriages.

Its author, Professor Stein Ringen, says that family life has changed dramatically over the last 30 years and moves must be made to encourage formal marriage rather than cohabitation. Divorce and abortion have been made "too easy".

The report, "The Family in Question", says more emphasis must be given to the rights of the child as an integral part of the family unit. Children's rights and voices are not seen as important and this should change, the professor says.

"The trend is for divorce and abortion to be seen as individual issues not collective decisions. In my view such an important decision must be taken collectively." he said.

"Children have a role in the decision making. They are a citizen in the family unit. Of course, many parents already take their children into consideration, for example staying together until the children grow up ... But there might be arguments to suggest that the child's opinion should have some priority if the child is against divorce."

In effect, the child should have the "casting vote". He says the argument also holds true on abortion: "This is a new brother or a new sister that we are talking about. It is very important for them."

Professor Ringer admits that such decisions would be "difficult" to implement practically and would require changes in family law.

In order to encourage politicians to take children's rights seriously, the latter should be given a vote which would be administered for them by their mother. "There are two reasons for this," he said.

"First, at the moment when politicians think about getting votes they do not have to think about children specifically. Second, the changing population means that voters are ageing - the average age of the voter is now approaching 50 and so they have short-term interests as opposed to children who have longer-term interests. Politicians are going to be more interested in the majority voters."

He said families must be supported against the growing individualism of life. "If society is neutral on cohabitation versus marriage, the likelihood is that cohabitation will advance over marriage and new unions of weak commitment will be encouraged."

To aid this, as well as making divorce more difficult, child benefit should be raised to 20 per cent of average income for the first five years of a child's life and tapered off until they reach 15. It should be taxable on top of other family income.

"The late 20th century faces a revolution in families; smart government policy must recognise these changes and look at ways to strengthen families rather than individuals," said Professor Ringer.

A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said yesterday: "We believe that children should be consulted over important decisions which affect their lives, such as divorce, but to let children have the right of veto is putting an unfair burden on their shoulders."

Agony aunt and broadcaster Deirdre Saunders said that letting children veto divorce would not work in real life: "I can see why Demos would see why it was a good idea but it is totally unrealistic. Most children would love their parents to stay together but whether that is possible is another matter. And research shows that it is no good parents staying together miserably."

Maeve Sherlock, director of the National Council of One Parent Families, said: "The interests of children should always be at the forefront whenever divorce is being considered. However, children cannot know - and may need sheltering from - the detail of their parents' relationship. They should not be asked to take responsibility for the future of a marriage."

'ragtag band' with eye on power

IN FIVE YEARS it seems there has been nothing that the independent think tank Demos has not tried to sell us, whether it's making divorce more difficult or telling us we should only have 10-year mar-riage contracts.

Founded in 1993 after a supper party at Frederick's restaurant in Islington - one of New Labour's favourite north London dining establishments - it became the darling of the chattering classes who were entranced by its idea for rebranding Britain and didn't dare ask what researcher Perri 6's real name was for fear of looking stupid.

It boasted it was independent. But when Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today (and later a deputy editor of The Independent) called himself its "natural father" the Daily Mail decried them as "insidious freemasons of the left". The luvvy connection continues. Anita Roddick sat on its board as did the chief executive of Barclays and Tesco's.

But despite producing eight to ten books a year on topics such as the post-modern state for animal rights, plus countless shorter reports, Demos's influence was limited to the pages of newspapers until last year's election. Demos and New Labour were made for each other.

Now the founder Geoff Mulgan oversees the Government's social exclusion unit and two of its researchers are on secondment to the Civil Service.

Still no one knows if Tony Blair has ever dared ask what Perri 6's real name is.

"RELATIVE VALUES" is a paper by Ed Straw, brother of Home Secretary Jack Straw. It argues that broadcasters should be legally required to devote a set number of programme hours each week to relationship and parenting education. Soap operas should be forced to cut the state's annual pounds 4bn bill for family breakups by teaching parents about successful marriages.

t "The Proposal" explores ways to save the institution of marriage. It says couples should be able to marry for a fixed term. They should be able to negotiate their own wedding vows. Anyone should be able to conduct the ceremony, including best friends.

t "Britain TM: Renewing our Identity" put forward the notion of rebranding Britain "Cool Britannia". It called for a new "story" for Britain dispensed by a "vision group" chaired by the Prime Minister. It proposes a "promoting Britain unit" in the Cabinet Office.

t "Tomorrow's Women" said women could be divided into five groups: Mannish Mel, New Age Angela, Networking Naomi, Back-to-Basics Barbara and Frustrated Fran. It says women are no longer a homogeneous group. The division will not be felt so keenly between the sexes as between types of women.

t "The Future of Privacy" said journalists should be free to stalk people. They should be able to trespass on their property if there is reasonable suspicion that they have committed a criminal or civil offence. Those who put themselves forward for public life should have virtually no privacy protection.