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International News Archive
March 27 - March 31, 2000


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This page contains news for the period Monday, March 27, 2000 through Friday, March 31, 2000.


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Friday, March 31, 2000

Cohabitation replacing marriage in Scandinavia

A story published today in the Los Angeles Times reports that couples in Scandinavia have all but given up on marriage as a framework for family life, preferring cohabitation even after their children are born.

More than half the babies in the region, which includes Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, are born to unmarried mothers. That's twice the ratio for continental Eurpoe and nearly 60 percent more than in the United States.

For most Scandinavian couples, marriage has changed from a point of departure to a destination they never reach. Marriage rates in the region have dropped from nine per 1,000 in the 1950s to four per 1,000 in the 1990s. Of those couples who do marry, half divorce before their children reach 18.

Births to unmarried parents vary somewhat among Scandinavian nations, with Sweden at 54 percent, Norway at 49 percent, Denmark at 46 percent, and Iceland at a whopping 65 percent.

In Copenhagen, Mai Heide Ottosen has been researching the effects of cohabitation on child development for five years and has concluded, like other sociologists, that children seem to suffer no ill effects from having unmarried parents as long as the couples stay together.

Chile considers allowing married couples to divorce

A story published today in the Philadelphia Enquirer reports that the government in Chile is considering a bill that would authorize divorce for the first time in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

Until now, couples could only seek an annulment -- a process that often required them to establish that the marriage was not valid in the first place.

The proposed divorce law has passed the 120-member lower Chamber of Deputies but is stalled in the 48-seat Senate.

The Catholic Church is staunchly opposed to a divorce law, and many Chileans, 77 percent of whom are at least nominally Catholic, are reluctant to fight the church out of deference.

However, the political dynamic may change in favor of a divorce law now that Socialist President Ricardo Lagos has taken office. He is on his second marriage, and his annulment was a campaign issue. Women's rights groups hope his personal history will make a difference.

Proponents of the divorce proposal, which would also create family courts, say it is designed to help women leave marriage on an equal economic footing and to protect the interests of children.

Leaders of the Catholic Church in Chile argue that allowing divorce would weaken the family. Church officials declined to be interviewed but provided a position paper from Chile's Conference of Bishops.

Wednesday, March 29, 2000

South Africa considers gay marriage request

A daily news report from the African National Congress reports that a lesbian couple, "married" by an unlicensed "priest" have been given a provisional date by the regional department of home affairs for their union to be made legal in the eyes of the government.

This would be subject to approval by department's Pretoria office. If the request succeeds it will be the first recognized gay marriage in the country.

Marinda Jordaan, 44, and Elsje Prinsloo, 29, made headlines earlier this month when they vowed to go to the Constitutional Court to legalise their union.

The story says that the couple were married by Clayton Wake!, who is licensed to perform same-sex marriages by his American-based church, Grace Ministries for Gay and Lesbian People.

Jordaan and Prinsloo went to the Home Affairs department in Cape Town on Tuesday where they were sent from one person to the next when they attempted to register their marriage.

As Wakeford is not licensed in South Africa to perform wedding ceremonies, and because same-sex marriages are not recognized, their union is not legal.

The task for legalizing weddings falls on Zelda Hansen, the head of Identity Documents at the home affairs offices in the city. One of the department's tasks is to marry couples for free.

Explaining the procedure, Hansen gave them May 29 as a date when their marriage could be performed. However, she emphasized same-sex marriages were not legal yet and she would be passing on their request to the head office in Pretoria.

If Pretoria denies them the opportunity, Jordaan and Prinsloo will take their case to the Constitutional Court on a charge of discrimination against gay people.

The Law Commission is in the process of drafting an "issue document" on domestic partnerships, which will be ready by the end of the year.


Monday, March 27, 2000

Whether single or married, Italian men stay close to mom

A story published today by EFE via COMTEX reports that men in Italy don't stray too far from their mothers, regardless of whether they are single or married.

More than 71 percent of single Italian men between the ages of 18 and 30 live with their parents, according to the results of a poll released Monday. The poll was conducted by Italy's Statistical Institute (ISTAT) on a sample of 28,000 families.

Even after they are married and have children of their own, 43 percent of Italian men continue to live within one kilometer (0.6 miles) of their mothers.

In another sign of the strong ties that bind Italians to the mothers, even after marriage, 58 percent of men and 65 percent of women say they see their mothers "almost every day," and 77 percent of sons say they visit her at least once a week.

More British living in unmarried households

A story published today in the London Guardian reports that in Britain marriage is down, and so is childbirth. But divorce is up, along with single-person living.

A report released today describes a period of unprecedented change in British family life, where adults lead more isolated lives, bringing up children on their own or not having them at all.

The independent Family Policy Studies Centre paints a picture of an evolving society with fewer children, fewer marriages, more divorces and more solo living, where "marriage and partnerships are much more fragile than they were".

The report says it is still too early to talk of the death of the "traditional family", because four-fifths of dependent children still live in a family with two parents, and nine in 10 of those parents are married. But other statistics included in the report demonstrate significant changes in family demographics with profound if, often unexplored, consequences.

More than 6.5 million people in Britain - about 28% of households - now live on their own, three times as many as 40 years ago, the report says. Nearly a quarter of women born in 1973 will still not have given birth to a child by the time they reach the age of 45, compared with about one in 10 of those born in 1943. Women are giving birth later, on average at 29 rather than at 26, as in the 1970s, and they are having fewer offspring.

The 21% of dependent children living in single-parent households (the vast majority with their mother) has trebled from the 7% in 1972. The number of lone parents has trebled in the past 25 years - there were about 1.6 million such parents and 2.8 million dependent children by the mid 1990s, compared with just over 500,000 lone parents and 1 million dependent children in 1971. Within that 1.6 million, the fastest growing group is single, never-married mothers. Their proportion, 42% in 1997, is nearly double the proportion of 24% for 1984.

"Twenty years ago such women would have married only to see their relationship end in separation or divorce," the report says. "Single lone mothers should be seen as the modern equivalent of teenagers in earlier generations whose shotgun marriages failed."

The annual marriages rate is at its lowest level since records began 160 years ago. In 1961 approximately 330,000 first- time marriages and 50,000 remarriages took place. By 1997 these figures had dropped to fewer than 200,000 first-time marriages and approximately 120,000 remarriages.

Of every five marriages, two will end in divorce. More than 150,000 children under 16 experience the divorce of their parents, and if present rates continue, 28% of children under 16 will experience divorce.

But the report says that marriage is still more stable than cohabiting, with couples who live together unmarried three or four times more likely to split up. Future research will show a rise in the proportion of cohabiting couples, from the one in 10 in the most recently available figures. And the presence of children in a cohabiting relationship does not appear to reduce the breakdown rate significantly.

In its report, the centre also dispels some common misconceptions: that people living alone are not part of a family, when in fact the family remains "the key social network and primary source of informal care and support for most people"; that most non-resident fathers do not keep in contact with their children, when nearly half in 1996 saw their children at least once a week. The extended family continues to be very important, although contact with relatives has lessened, and family members are the main providers of care for elderly relatives. Grandparents are still important in childcare.

Jack Straw, Britain's Home Secretary, last week confirmed his commitment to promoting the family, but he said he wanted to "develop policies that support people in families as they really are today, not according to some outdated ideal". He thought it unlikely that the traditional nuclear family ever really existed. "This government is committed to supporting families whatever form they take. This government will not preach about marriage," he said.

The report summarized the following facts of life in Britain:

• There are 16.3m families in Britain

• Almost 38% of babies are born outside marriage, compared with 7.2% in 1964

• The number of children living in a one-parent family has nearly trebled in 25 years, from 1million to 2.8 million

• More than 40% of all marriages are remarriages, compared with 20% in 1971

• 150,000 children live in families of divorced couples, nearly double the 1971 figure

• The average age of mothers giving birth is 29, compared with 26 in the 1970s

• Nearly 25% of women born in 1973 are expected to be still childless at age 45

• 80% of dependent children still live in a family with two parents

• More than 80% of fathers still live with their children


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