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Reflections on Second International Children’s Rights Institute Conference

by Carlos Flores

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Divorce is a topic that few want to talk about. Perhaps this is because of the extraordinary number of marriages that end in divorce. Perhaps this is because of the unfortunate experiences of children whose parents have divorced and who still live with its scars.

Whatever the reason for the hesitance to talk about divorce, it is important that we overcome the temptation to not speak about it and instead discuss it with candor. This is why I count myself as lucky to have been able to attend the International Children’s Rights Institute (ICRI) conference, “Children of Divorce — A Taboo Subject?” in Paris, France last October.

The event, which was co-hosted by Famille et Liberté, a French pro-family association, featured speakers from the U.S. and France. The event was kicked off by a speech by the President of Famille et Liberté Claire Gatellier, who spoke with vigor of the need for French commentators to break the silence surrounding the effects of divorce on children.

Next, Jennifer Johnson of the Ruth Institute read the moving essay she contributed to Jephthah’s Daughters (International Children’s Rights Institute 2015) about the link between same sex marriage and blended divorced families. She pointed out that seemingly innovative ideas such as five-parent families are not really new, since no-fault divorce created a whole host of blended families combining stepparents and parents, and how such things are poised to create further disadvantages and injustices for children by prioritizing the whims of adults over the needs of children.

ICRI President Robert Oscar Lopez discussed the depictions of divorce in antiquity, particularly in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Euripides’ Medea, and Euripides’ Trojan Women. As Lopez pointed out, images of dissolved marriages in ancient Greece were often set in stories that depicted terrible violence: the killing of Medea’s sons; Procne and Philomela killing a child and serving him to his father; and the long Trojan War resulting from Helen leaving Menelaus for Paris. There is an “honesty,” Lopez argued, about the violence of those ancient narratives compared to the Brady Bunch image of blended families today.

Aude Mirkovic from Juristes pour l’Enfance spoke about the need for better legal guidance from the government on divorce. She pointed out that, up until now, French divorce laws have focused overwhelmingly on defining the rights of the two divorcing adults but have only defined the “interests,” not the rights of the child. Mirkovic also argued, however, that “best interests” are vague and controversial, whereas nowhere does the law define the children of divorce as having rights to any kind of treatment in the process or the post-divorce custody arrangements.

Marc d’Anselme, an expert in marriage therapy, presented statistics about the feasibility of saving marriages through counseling. He noted how, in his experience, couples often do save their relationships through counseling, though the key is getting the couple to remain in treatment beyond the first few sessions.

Jerome Brûnet presented research on the psychological effects of divorce on children and presented a stark and sobering reality: when parents divorce, children suffer emotional distress and struggle academically.

The conference was a welcome breath of fresh air insofar as it brought together persons from various countries to discuss a matter that needs to be discussed much more and with the sort of candor that was present in the conference. These sorts of conferences ought to be more frequent.

Carlos Flores, a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a philosophy major and founder of the UCSB Anscombe Society. 

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