Letter: `Teach' marriage in schools

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Sir: In her column (20 March), Polly Toynbee applauds divorce as "our century's great liberator". The only problem she sees with the staggering 158,000 divorces in 1994 is that economically, we have made no adaptation to divorce.

The solution, she suggests, is to create "a social and economic system that makes it possible for mothers both to earn and care for their children". Surely this is a contradiction in terms. No matter how much a mother could earn, someone else would be caring for her children. While the majority of child-minders are kind, loving individuals, can they really be expected to feel the same sense of responsibility for a child's emotional, intellectual and spiritual development as the parents?

In Britain today, 25 per cent of all children experience their parents' divorce before they are 16 years old. Research from Exeter University found that children from "re-ordered" families (those whose families had suffered separation and divorce) were twice as likely to report health and self-worth problems, three times more likely to have school-work and social life difficulties, and four times more likely to have behavioural problems.

The interviewers found that children can cope better with their parents fighting and even with the death of a parent than they can with a parent leaving. In other words, in general, as far as children are concerned, a bad marriage is better than a good divorce.

Surely, the solution is not to make divorce "easier" through the Family Law Bill, but to invest in marriage. Marriage education should form part of the curriculum for our schools. We need to focus on reconciliation rather than mediation by providing more funding for counselling for struggling marriages.

The married couples tax allowance, now worth pounds 3.30 per week less to basic-rate taxpayers in hard cash than it was two years ago, should be substantially increased.

Dorothy Adam