Bernardo M. Villegas
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President Duterte`s Views on Divorce (Part 1)

          Children in the future generations will be very grateful to President Duterte if he is able to prevent a divorce law from being passed under his watch.  He recently announced that he is not in favor of a divorce law because its worst victims are children who will be deprived of a two-parent home which is indispensable for integral human development.  He hit the nail on the head when he considered children, the most vulnerable of human beings, as the beneficiaries of a society that does not legalize divorce.  This instinct of his is fully supported by the strongest evidences of social scientists from all over the world, especially from the United States—where divorce has reached epidemic proportions—about the harm done to children by broken families that are facilitated by a law that allows the breaking of the permanent bond of marriage.

         As I have already discussed in previous columns in this same publication, the largest assembly known of social scientists from the most diverse disciplines met in December 2014 in Princeton, New Jersey (not the University) under the auspices of a think tank called The Witherspoon Institute (www.winst.org) and brought empirical results from their respective fields of studies to relate the stability of marriage and the family with the common good.  The conference brought together 70 scholars from History, Economics, Psychiatry, Law, Sociology and Philosophy to share with each other the findings of their research on why marriage, understood as the permanent union of husband and wife, is in the public interest.

         Without using religious arguments (which President Duterte does not), one can explain to the uninformed masses—whatever their religious affiliations—that a divorce law can lead to a host of social and economic problems as can be gleaned from the experiences of other countries that have had a divorce law for decades.  Although the 70 experts whose consensus is summarized here also cite data from other countries, most of the information used was from the United States which can be considered as the mecca of divorce.  Over a forty-year period (1960 to 2000), the divorce rate more than doubled in the United States, from about 20 percent to about 45 percent of all first marriages.  The data suggests that approximately two-thirds of all divorces involving children break up low-conflict marriages where domestic violence or emotional abuse is not a factor in the breakup of the marriage.  Unfortunately, as President Duterte points out, the children seem to bear the heaviest burden from the divorce of their parents.  Children from broken homes are significantly more likely to divorce as adults, to experience marital problems, to suffer from mental illness and delinquency, to drop out of high school, to have poor relationships with one or both parents, and to have difficulty committing themselves to a relationship.  Furthermore, in most respects, remarriage is no help to children of divorced families.  Children who grow up in stepfamilies experience about the same levels of educational failure, teenage pregnancy and criminal activity as children who remain in a single-parent family after a divorce.

         The adverse impact on boys is especially worrisome.  As an anecdotical evidence, I have observed that practically all the perpetrators of mass killings in the United States are by teenage or adult men who come from dysfunctional families.  The Princeton group came out with the strong evidences that boys benefit in unique ways from being reared within stable, married families.  Research consistently finds that boys raised by their own fathers and mothers in an intact, married family are less likely to get in trouble than boys raised in other family situations.  Boys raised outside of an intact family are more likely to have problems with aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency, and school suspensions, compared to boys raised in intact, married families.  Some studies suggest that the negative behavioral consequences of marital breakdown are even more significant for boys than for girls.  One study found that boys reared in single-parent and step-families were more than twice as likely to end up in prison, compared to boys reared in an intact family.  It is pretty clear that stable marriage and paternal role models are crucial for keeping boys from self-destructive and socially destructive behavior.

         The seventy scientists who met in Princeton came out with abundant empirical evidences that included control for socioeconomic, demographic, and even genetic factors that might otherwise distort the relationship between family structure and child well-being.  They followed the strictest statistical rules for correlation analyses. For example, the link between family breakdown and crime is not an artifact of poverty among single parents.  Moreover, the newest work on divorce follows adult twins and their children to separate out the unique effects of divorce itself from the potential role that genetic (and socioeconomic) factors might play in influencing children’s outcomes.  This research indicates that divorce has negative consequences for children’s psychological and social welfare even after controlling for the genetic vulnerabilities of the parents who divorce.

         The findings of the Princeton group are independent of religious beliefs.  That is why I find it irrelevant if the majority of Catholics in the Philippines, including unfortunately a few misguided priests, are in favor of the divorce law.  The evils of divorce go beyond doctrinal differences among religions.  They are rooted in the nature of human beings and of families.  Looking at all the studies cited by the Princeton group, scientific evidences link stable, permanent marriage to an impressive array of positive outcomes for children, the main concern of President Duterte.  Both social and biological mechanisms seem to account for the value of an intact marriage in children’s lives.  From a sociological perspective, stable marriages allow families to benefit from shared labor within the household, income streams from two parents, and the economic resources of two sets of kin.  A married mom and dad typically invest more time, affection, and oversight into parenting than does a single parent; as importantly, they tend to monitor and improve the parenting of one another, augmenting one another’s strengths, balancing one another’s weaknesses, and reducing the risk that a child will be abused or neglected by an exhausted or angry parent.  The trust and commitment associated with stable marriages also give a man and a woman a sense that they have a future together, as well as a future with their children.  This horizon of commitment, in turn, motivates them to invest practically, emotionally, and financially at higher levels in their children than cohabiting or single parents.   (To be continued).