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International News Archive
November 22 - November 30, 1999


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This page contains news for the period Monday, November 22, 1999 through Tuesday, November 30, 1999.





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Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Most Britons believe marriage not the key to a happy childhood

A story published today by Reuters reports that a poll released on Tuesday shows that only one in five Britons believes that having married parents is a very important factor in a child's happiness.

Among parents in the 25-44 age group the figure was even lower, with just 10% saying marriage was an important factor in bringing up happy children.

The poll was conducted by MORI to mark the launch of the National Family and Parenting Institute, an independent nonprofit organization set up with 2 million pounds ($3.20 million) of government funding.

The Institute's chief executive, Mary MacLeod, said the poll showed that the institute -- which is to advise the government on family policy -- should concentrate on supporting families and not just preach about the importance of marriage.

The poll was carried out among a sample of 2,059 people aged 15 and over, 70 percent of whom were parents.

British teenagers having sex earlier

A story published today by Catholic World News reports that new research into the sexual habits of teenagers claims the media is guilty of sending out conflicting messages, leading to a rise in teenagers' sexual activity.

The study, carried out on behalf of the Health Education Board Scotland (HEBS), shows that while television soap operas tend to cover sexual issues in an in-depth and informative manner, men's magazines approach the subject in a macho and stereotypical way.

The story says that "Representation of Teenage Sexuality in the Media" was conducted by Glasgow University Media School who found the portrayal of young people in the media was overwhelmingly sexually active. A second study by the university, "Health Behaviors of Scottish Schoolchildren," highlights a marked increase in underage sex with 38 percent of 15-year-old girls surveyed admitting to having had sexual intercourse. The figure nine years ago was just over 26 percent.

The legal age of consent for heterosexual activity in Britain is 16.

"There are a number of factors that are associated with a rise in sexual activity," said Dr. Candace Currie, from the University's Research Unit. "Children have a larger disposable income and their lifestyles have changed. They tend to be drinking and doing more adult things. Early sexual activity is part of the package. It's not an individual lifestyle -- there tends to be a peer culture."

But Dr. Currie denied there was a link between sex education in schools and the increase in sexual activity. She said: "If you look at countries like the Netherlands where there is sex education at a younger age, there is a rise in the age of first sexual encounter."

First gay co-parent adoptions given court approval in Alberta, Canada

An article published today in Planet Out reports that two sets of Canadian lesbian partners were given court approval to be adoptive co-parents of their children.

Finding the two lesbian couples involved to be "devoted parents" who are "amply qualified," a judge approved the first co-adoptions by same-gender co-parents in the Canadian province of Alberta on November 26. Justice Peter Martin of the Court of Queen's Bench wrote, "I am also satisfied that these applications are in the best interest of the children."

The province of Alberta finally dropped its opposition to the co-adoptions in April, and the legislature acted in May to modify the provincial Child Welfare Act to use the gender-neutral term "stepparent." But the amended law did not explicitly grant adoption rights to gay and lesbian couples, so Martin's ruling was necessary to clarify that they are in fact included in the definition of "stepparent."

Each couple had been together about six years when they decided to have children by artificial insemination, and one member of each couple bore a son.

There are numerous benefits for these families as a result of the co-parents gaining legal status as adoptive parents. They can apply for health insurance as family units instead of as individuals. The boys can inherit from their co-mothers and can qualify to receive their workers' compensation. Should one partner die, the other will have clear custody rights; should the couple break up, the courts will recognize both partners' rights to custody and visitation.

French teens will get access to morning-after pill

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the French government's decision to make the morning-after pill available to teen-age girls at schools has unleashed a fierce debate in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

Parents and health officials are divided over whether the action will usher in a nonchalant attitude toward unprotected sex or provide teen-agers with the support some contend is missing at home.

According to the story, deputy Education Minister Segolene Royal, a Socialist, said teen-age pregnancies were not just a family matter but a public health problem that affects 10,000 girls under 18 each year.

``I want to respond to this distress, to this urgency, by asking adolescents to go though a school nurse'' should they fear an unwanted pregnancy, Royal said in announcing the action over the weekend.

Once the new program takes effect in a few weeks, the morning-after pill, NorLevo, will be available through school nurses. The treatment consists of two pills, one taken within 72 hours after sexual intercourse and the second 12 to 24 hours later.

The pill works by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus -- which opponents contend amounts to abortion by blocking development of a viable embryo.

The story notes that two forms of morning-after pills are available in the United States. But teens in this country need a prescription to get them at health or family planning clinics.

The NorLevo pill has been available without prescription in France since June, but supporters of distributing it in schools argue that young girls may be loath to ask for it in drugstores.

British Law Commission proposes financial rewards for unmarried survivors

A story published today in the London Times reports that a wide range of people, including unmarried partners, should be able to claim damages when a loved one dies in a fatal accident caused by someone else under recent Law Commission proposals.

In a shake-up of the laws on damages for wrongful death, the commission recommends scrapping the present list of dependants who can claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Instead, it says, any individual who is "wholly or partly maintained by the deceased immediately before the death" should be able to claim. But the proposals stipulate that the deceased should have been making "a substantial contribution in money or monies' worth towards the claimant's reasonable needs."

The qualification is important, says John Henthorn, a partner with Berrymans Lace Mawer, which specializes in work for insurers. Without it, there could be a substantial rise in the number of small claims for dependency arising from a fatal accident. That would "dilute" the pot of damages due to the main dependants.

The Commission also proposes that bereavement damages - for the distress of a wrongful death - which since 1991 have been fixed at £7,500 - should go up to £10,000, index-linked. These damages should be open to children of the deceased, brothers and sisters including adopted children, and half-brothers and sisters in the same household. Gay and heterosexual cohabitees with whom the deceased had lived in a sexual relationship for two years are also included.

At the same time, it says damages should be increased to £10,000 for each claimant, subject to an overall maximum per death of £30,000.

According to the story, Martin Bruffell, another partner at Berrymans and former president of Foil, the insurance lawyers' group, says insurers should take a measure of comfort from the report. Many lawyers had expected the commission to recommend pay-outs of up to £50,000 per person. The report does also propose that other insurance benefits and contributory negligence be taken into account when such damages are awarded.

One aspect remains controversial: the proposal that courts assess the state of a marriage when considering payments - whether the deceased would have divorced.


Monday, November 29, 1999

For women, it's just a four-year hitch

An article published today by the Sunday Times in London reports that the so-called "seven-year itch" in marriages is a myth. Relationships are genetically programmed to self-destruct after four years, according to a study by a leading anthropologist.

After more than 15 years of research in 62 countries, Helen Fisher was due to reveal on BBC Television last night findings that suggest the majority of women are ready to leave their men shortly after the marriage service.

Their genes tell them that children fathered by a series of men, creating a multiplicity of talents, stand a better chance of survival, Professor Fisher said last week.

Professor Fisher, of Rutgers University near New York, said this explained why most divorces were initiated by women. "The man may be playing around but it is the woman who needs to move on to her next partner in a lifelong chain of serial monogamy."

There was an innate four-year pattern in courtship, marriage, adultery and divorce, according to Fisher's findings. "The brain chemicals that make us fall in love run out after 36 months, and it usually takes another year for us to realize this, look around and get out. I do not know why this is surprising: virtually no other mammal hangs around for anything like four years."

Professor Fisher, who is divorced, argues that cultural conditioning has artificially extended marriage. "Increasing economic independence of women will ensure that genes will out," she said.

Unlike previous researchers, Professor Fisher does not claim that people fall out of love after four years. Affection and warmth may allow relationships to thrive longer. She concedes that there are many happy long-term marriages.

"In Britain and the United States, despite the divorce headlines, most people marry for life and stay married for life. Even those who divorce usually marry again, and happily."

The issues were highlighted last week when Mary Macloud, chairwoman of the British Government's new parenting institute, said passion was overrated in marriage.

"Marriage should be approached with a relatively cool head, like a partnership or a business," she said.

The story says that British scientists are skeptical about Professor Fisher's claims. Geneticist Steve Jones said: "The link between genes and any form of specific cultural behavior is obscure. A century ago, you could have argued that genes dictated long marriages."

Helena Cronin, an evolutionary biologist and friend of Professor Fisher, said: "Long-term pair bonding, often based on the extreme vulnerability of the human baby, as well as love, is one reason why human beings are such a successful species. I do not see that changing."


Friday, November 26, 1999

Canadian vital statistics released today

A story released today by M2 Communications reports that a new "Vital statistics compendium" provides a comprehensive summary of recent trends in births, deaths, stillbirths, marriages and divorces In Canada up to 1996.

Most of the data in this publication are accompanied by charts and cover the period 1986 to 1996. A chapter on the leading causes of death covers 1979 to 1996. The publication includes provincial and territorial data, as well as data on sub-provincial areas. Another chapter provides comparisons with other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

On an average day in Canada in 1996, 1,001 babies were born, 582 persons died, 428 couples married and 195 divorces were finalized.

In 1996, the number of new marriages fell to 156,700, an 18% decline from 190,600 in 1989 and the lowest level in 30 years. This occurred despite significant population growth over this period. This decline is explained by the popularity of common-law relationships, particularly in Quebec, which has the lowest crude marriage rate of all the provinces.

The mean age at first marriage has been rising steadily since 1986 for both sexes. On average, first-time brides were 27.3 years old in 1996, compared with 24.8 a decade earlier. First-time grooms were 29.3 years old on average in 1996, up from 27.0 in 1986.

The proportion of married couples expected to divorce before their 30th wedding anniversary (the total divorce rate) ranged from 24% in Prince Edward Island to 56% in Yukon. The total divorce rate was also high in Quebec (46%) and British Columbia (45%).

Campaign begins in Australia to educate unmarried adults about new guardianship law

A story published today by Capital Q reports that a new campaign has been launched to raise awareness among Australians about new "enduring guardianship" laws which are similar in purpose to "durable power of attorney for health care" laws in the United States.

Under the new legislation, adults have the the choice over who they wish to make lifestyle decisions for them in the event of their incapacitation. The new provisions differ to an "enduring power of attorney," which deals with financial matters.

Enduring guardians can make decisions about where a person can live, access to health care and whether to refuse or allow particular medical treatment.

An enduring guardian can be appointed by completing a standard form and having it signed by a lawyer or clerk of the local court.

"A guardian, legally appointed by you, has the ability to consider your thoughts and opinions, even those in the past, and make a decision when the need arises," Director of the Office of the Public Guardian, John Le Breton said.

The new law will be especially helpful to unmarried adults who can designate someone to make personal decisions for them, such as a domestic partner, a close friend, or a specific relative.


Thursday, November 25, 1999

Young "old maids" celebrate in Paris

A story released today by Reuters reports that young "spinsters" from the Paris fashion world donned silly hats and quaffed champagne on Thursday in traditional honour of St Catherine, the chaste patron saint of single women and haute couture.

Paris city hall threw a party in honour of the "old maids,'' who bear their status proudly and dismiss any social stigma that might once have been attached to young women who remained unmarried.

"Not being married doesn't bother me. I can imagine never having a husband, but I cannot imagine never having children,'' said Vivia Ferragamo, employed in the Ungaro fashion studio.

The article notes that only child-free 25-year olds willing to wear flamboyant yellow and green bonnets can be feted on St Catherine day, with the fashion industry showering gifts on their young employees.

"In theory they should also be virgins, but we have no way of checking,'' said a matronly chaperone from the Jean Partois house accompanying her protege, Stephanie Noiret, to Thursday's glittering reception.

The Hermes fashion house was represented in force, with 91-year old Aline Hermes looking on enviously at the lastest generation of so-called "Catherinettes.''

"Young girls of today are so lucky. They have so much more freedom than we used to have,'' said Hermes. I was married when I was 23 but I think St Catherine proves that it is better to wait and think about things a bit.''

The story says that according to legend, Catherine was a noblewoman born in Alexandria in the fourth century AD, renowned for her beauty, intelligence and chastity.

Sadly, she fell foul of the Roman emperor Maxentius who had her tortured after she refused to take part in a pagan ritual. She was eventually beheaded, but instead of blood, a milk-like liquid poured from her severed neck.

Why she became the patron saint of fashion, or why she was commemorated with silly hats, no-one seemed to know, but it gave designers a good opportunity to flaunt their talents.

An opinion poll published by Le Parisien daily on Wednesday reported that the vast majority of France's growing army of unmarried women were delighted to live alone.

Of the 400 single women questioned, 93 percent said they were happy, of whom 41 percent said they were "very happy.''


Tuesday, November 23, 1999

French stretch law to fit post-modern mores

A story published today in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the perceived impact on society of a new law in France which allows unmarried couples to register their relationships at local town halls. Registrants will receive some of the benefits and legal protections previously reserved to married couples.

The article begins by focusing on Yannick Gervais, a French computer engineer in his early 40s. For him, the new law is a dream come true.

In a few days, he and his longtime partner, René Varnier, will present themselves at the town hall of Paris's 12th district, sign a "civil solidarity pact," and become one of the first gay couples in France to legalize their union.

After 21 years of living together, "at last we will have society's recognition that we are a couple," he says. "Symbolically this is going to mean a lot to us."

But for conservative lawmaker Christine Boutin, their signature will be another serious blow to an institution already under threat in France: marriage.

"This is obviously going to weaken the family," she says. "And it's only the beginning." In a country where 40 percent of children are born to unmarried couples, the question of how to strengthen relationships and the fabric of society is an important one.

The "civil solidarity pact," known by its French acronym PACS, became law this month, making France the first traditionally Catholic country in the world to grant major legal protections to unmarried couples. It is part of a major shift in the way ordinary people, and the state, view unmarried couples, especially same-sex partners.

After a stormy passage through parliament, often violent public debate, and amid warnings from the Roman Catholic Church, the law now extends to unmarried - but registered - couples some of the tax, welfare, and inheritance rights that married couples enjoy.

It carries forward a trend across Europe, where governments have been giving increasing legal recognition to unwed couples, same-sex or not.

The article observes that three weeks ago in Britain, a homosexual man won a five-year court battle to be treated as a "family member" linked to his deceased partner. The House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, ruled that a "stable and permanent" relationship was sufficient to confer family rights.

In the United States, no state recognizes same-sex marriage. Thirty states have approved legislation barring the recognition of such unions if they should become legal in another state, and five states are considering similar laws.

For Mr. Gervais, the new French law means that "society recognizes us in day-to-day life as fully fledged citizens. It's not that much to ask -- we pay our taxes, we do our civic duties just like everyone else."

From now on, he hopes, a host of mundane but awkward problems will disappear. He and his partner will be able to share joint auto insurance, for example.

More important, they will be able to extend their social-security coverage to each other, file joint tax returns, and leave each other property in their wills on favorable tax terms.

Critics, however, say that there was no need for a law to resolve such questions, and that the legislation's effect "will be to devalue the sense of commitment" that men and women should feel when formalizing a relationship, in the words of the Rev. Stanislas Lalanne, a spokesman for the Catholic church.

But Justice Minister Elizabeth Guigou, who presented the bill to parliament, argued that the PACS would help support families. "An intermediate juridical framework ... between de facto cohabitation and the institution of marriage," she said, should "encourage those who are struggling against the dissolution of social bonds."

The pacs is open to those "who do not want to or cannot marry," who are not members of the same family, and who are not already married or signatories to another PACS. It can be dissolved immediately by mutual agreement, or with three months' notice by one of the two partners.

This does not replace marriage, insists Jean-Pierre Michel, the Socialist deputy who pushed the law through parliament. "The motivations encouraging heterosexual couples to marry will remain the same ... whether that be the symbolic force of a commitment celebrated by a representative of the state, or the rights that accrue" to married people, he argued.

Still, the legal recognition granted to unwed couples worries church authorities. "A lifestyle should not necessarily become a point of reference," argued the Catholic Bishops' Conference, in a statement criticizing the PACS bill.

International adoptions increase as more unmarried American women keep their babies

An article released today by the Associated Press reports that Americans are adopting fewer babies from home and increasingly turning abroad, where infants are more readily available and adoptions can be less complicated.

The story is based on a new report issued by the National Council on Adoption.

The Council says that more than 17 percent of children adopted by American parents in 1996 were born abroad. The number of foreign adoptions has more that doubled this decade. For infants, children under 2, international adoptions account for nearly a third of the total, the report said.

Meanwhile, between 1992 and 1996, domestic infant adoptions fell by 11 percent, a decrease experts attribute in part to fewer single mothers giving babies up for adoption.

The council, a private group that advocates adoptions, based its report on a survey of the states and data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Adoption data is notoriously hard to come by, and the new report is among the most comprehensive to date, experts said.

The report looked at 54,496 adoptions in 1996 involving U.S.-born children and found more than half came from the foster care system. The overall adoptions of American children edged down from 55,706 in 1992, according to the council, which did similar surveys in 1982, 1986 and 1992.

At the same time, about 11,000 children were adopted from other countries in 1996, up from 6,500 in 1992, the report said. By last year, the number of foreign adoptions topped 15,000.

In 1992, international adoptions accounted for just 10.5 percent of all unrelated adoptions, those that do not involve family members. By 1996, that rose to 17.5 percent.

The article notes that while there are more American children born to unmarried parents than ever before, more single mothers are opting to keep their babies, leading to a shortage of infants available for adoption, experts said.

That's particularly true for unmarried white women, said Madelyn Freundlich, executive director of New York-based Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. In the 1970s, about one in five unmarried white mothers gave babies up for adoption. Now, it's less than 1 percent, she said.

"The stigma of being a single parent in most quarters of this country no longer carries the weight that may have been true a decade or two decades ago," she said. "It's just a very different environment."

Property rights to cover unmarried couples in Queensland, Australia

A story published today by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that unmarried couples would gain property rights under legislation to be introduced into the Queensland Parliament this week. Queensland is a province in Australia.

New domestic violence laws already to include gay couples.

The article says that Attorney-General Matt Foley is moving to give heterosexual and homosexual de facto couples the right to claim property in the event of a relationship break-up.

Just over a week ago Opposition MPs described the extension of domestic violence laws to same sex couples as sick and immoral.

Foley says with 80,000 de facto couples in Queensland, the change is long overdue.

"We need to address it with commonsense and to ensure that ordinary Queenslanders have got access to the law in a non-discriminatory way," he said.

Opposition justice spokesman Lawrence Springborg says the Coalition will support the changes for couples of the opposite sex, but not for gay couples.

"I think many Queenslanders would justifiably be questioning the priorities of this govt in pursuing these sorts of funny social agendas when they're not really the issues of the day," Mr Springborg said.

Foley says the changes have been recommended by the Queensland Law Reform Commission.


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