By: Bernardo M. Villegas – @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer
Future generations will be very grateful to President Duterte if he is able to prevent the passage of a divorce law during his watch. He has announced that he is not in favor of a divorce law because its worst victims will be the children who will be deprived of a two-parent home 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. His instinct is fully supported by the strongest evidence found by social scientists from all over the world—especially the United States where divorce has reached epidemic proportions—about the harm done to children when broken families are facilitated by a law that allows the dissolution of the permanent bond of marriage.
The largest known assembly of social scientists from the most diverse disciplines met in December 2014 in Princeton, New Jersey (not the university), under the auspices of the think tank The Witherspoon Institute (www.winst.org). They presented empirical results from their fields of study—history, economics, psychiatry, law, sociology and philosophy—to relate the stability of marriage and the family to the common good. The conference gathered the 70 experts to share 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 Mr. Duterte does not), one can explain to the uninformed masses—whatever their religious affiliation—that a divorce law can lead to social and economic problems, as can be gleaned from the experiences of other countries where divorce is legal. 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 the Mecca of divorce. Over a 40-year period (1960-2000), the divorce rate more than doubled in the United States, from about 20 percent to about 45 percent of all first marriages. The data suggest that about two-thirds of all divorces involved low-conflict marriages where domestic violence or emotional abuse was not a factor in the breakup of the union.
Unfortunately, as Mr. Duterte has pointed out, the children seem to bear the heaviest burden from their parents’ divorce. 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 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. From anecdotal evidence, I have observed that practically all the perpetrators of mass killings in the United States were teenage or adult men who come from dysfunctional families. The 70 social scientists presented strong evidence 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 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.
And it is also quite clear that one can object to divorce for nonreligious reasons. Mr. Duterte, who is very conscious of his presiding over citizens of various faiths (or no faith at all), has spoken. Divorce is bad for children. I hope the majority of the senators will heed his very wise and timely advice: Say no to divorce.
Bernardo M. Villegas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.