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Parental arrangements,
an international perspective

  • More English information on Joep
    Article by Joep Zander, 8-11-2000
    Translated by Gerrit Blok 15-05-2001 The article was published in the magazine "Perspectief". Official magazine of the Dutch Department of Justice Produced for "Child-protection-Service-workers".

    Parental arrangements, an international perspective conflicting parents

    Associate Ministers and many organizations are struggling to find ways of increasing the involvement of fathers with their children. In New Zealand just recently a new law (Shared Parenting Bill) has been discussed which deals with the 50/50 sharing of childcare. Also in the Netherlands men are pleading for equal rights to share childcare and the right to make childcare agreements.

    It is better to address the solution of these conflicts within their own social context, rather than via a badly operating state system. Respecting this would be rewarded with the courage to agree on better gender-equal care arrangements. By doing so the arrears of fathers in the immediate care for their children would be decreased.

    Already for a long time New Zealand has been a frontrunner with the equality of both sexes. In 1893 New Zealand was the first country to give women voting rights.

    In the Netherlands this did not happen until 1919. At the moment New Zealand is a frontrunner in the discussion about judicial childcare for both parents, with the recent law proposal "Shared Parenting Bill" from MP Dr. Muriel Newman. Also in various other ways is New Zealand a front runner in the renewal of the family law.

    The integration of the traditional Maori culture and the newer Pakeha (people from European cultures) culture has reached one of its highlights in 1989 with the integration of the Family Group Conference (FGC) in the Children Young Persons and their Familyís Act. As is the case in many traditional cultures, the role of the extended family is for the Maori considered more important than in many western cultures. This also is valid for the role of the immediate living environment, such and the tribal community.

    With the law of 1989 the constructive possibilities of the environment for solving of family problems were regenerated and also introduced within the (pakeha) culture.

    These developments have not only been partly successful, but also had a major international effect. Also in the Netherlands many organisations (e.g. Family Continuity International) are busy with the implementation of the principles of the family council.

    In 1999 a group of fathers from different countries from all over the world gathered in the French village of Langeac. There they discussed the starting points for a new and fair system of childcare and the associated judicial framework.

    The most important starting point became the right of a standard 50/50 responsibility and

    care distribution. The so-called "Declaration of Langeac on Equal Parenting" has been very well received in the Netherlands, by parenting organizations.

    Also the revaluation of the responsibilities of parents to the state was an important motive for this. Although it seems that the FGC currently has very little influence on solving problems between parents to do with distribution of care, it is important to investigate this model and look for possibilities it offers in those cases. In most Western countries, including the Netherlands, individual contracts between citizens to do with childcare have no value. Even in New Zealand is the autonomy of parents, extended families and relatives limited by a right of veto of the child protection department. Also the institutional obtrusiveness of some relief workers threatens the autonomy of the family and consequently the development of solutions.

    If we develop the FGC to a modern instrument in the Western society, then we should not only use the traditional and intercultural known systems for conflict resolution, but we also should use them in a new context. The input of other third parties from the social context of parents could be increased. Besides that some relativity to do with the extended family is justified. Real involvement should play a part.

    It would be good to develop a system, which stimulates parents to engage in legal agreements regarding the care and responsibility for their children. The agreements should also contain parts to do with conflict resolution. Parents can also choose the framework of conflict resolution themselves. Considering the possibilities and responsibilities to the extended family. For instance this could result in the choice of an arbitration commission which by means of its composition, an expression is of the self-chosen context. This way the judicial system needs to be less involved in less of the cases. A judicial system which very often does not have the sensitivity or competence to intervene in parent-child relations.

    It wonít always be easy to connect "future thinking" and emancipation with intercultural and historical insights and traditions. This also was manifested this year in New Zealand when the Prime Minister was not allowed to do a speech to commemorate the Treaty between the Pakeha and Maoriís (Treaty of Waitangi) because a woman is not welcome in the traditional marae. It also was proven by the fact that so called progressive parties (Greenies and Socialist) withheld their vote to support the Shared Parenting Bill.

    It might well be that the Netherlands is a very suitable country, to dig new trenches between the traditional and progressive ideas, and by doing so will stop the de-humanization of parent-child relations and the unequal distribution of home care.

    Joep Zander, Educationalist, Artist.


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