The Federal Labor spokeswoman on children and youth, Nicola Roxon, has called for the establishment of a children’s rights body. In her Herald Sun article (May 26) she mentions a Bill she has introduced into Parliament calling for the establishment of an Australian Commission for Children and Young people. The Commission would deal with issues like child abuse, child poverty and other worthy objectives.
However we believe she is approaching these serious problems in the wrong way. The truth is, children’s interests are best served in the context of their own family. That is, the safest and best place for a child, generally speaking, is with both biological parents. The social science research on this is quite clear.
No bureaucrat, no matter how well-intentioned, will ever come close to showing the love, attention and dedication to a child that a mother or a father does. In most cases, the biological parents of children are the ones who are willing to make the necessary self-sacrifices and self-denial to put the interests of children first. To argue that children need an advocate is to overlook the fact that they already have one: their own parents.
Now we as a society are rightly concerned about child sexual abuse. Therefore, we should be doing all we can to promote and protect the institutions of marriage and family. Why? Because research shows that the safest place for a child to be is with his or her biological mother and father.
For example, former Human Rights Commissioner Mr Brian Burdekin has reported a 500 to 600 per cent increase in sexual abuse of girls in families where the adult male was not the natural father.
A recent study of Victorian child abuse victims found that 45 per cent lived with single parents. The report, by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, found that children who lived in natural two-parent families had a relatively low risk of abuse.
Also, the Australian Institute of Criminology notes that infants under the age of 12 months are the population group at highest risk of being murdered, and the most likely killer of a child is his or her non-biological father – “in other words, the mother’s new partner.”
Overseas evidence backs up the Australian evidence. A British study recently found that serious child abuse is lowest in intact married families, but 6 times higher in step families, 14 times higher in single mother families, 20 times higher in cohabiting biological families, and 33 times higher in cohabiting non-biological (boyfriend) families.
US data shows that children of divorced or never-married mothers are 6 to 30 times more likely to suffer abuse than are children raised by married biological parents.
A 1994 US study of 52,000 children found that those who are most at risk of being abused are those who are not living with both parents. And a Finnish study of nearly 4,000 ninth-grade girls found that “stepfather-daughter incest was about 15 times as common as father-daughter incest”.
As one American family expert summarises, “a child is sexually safer with her father than with any other man, from a stepfather to her mother’s boyfriend to guys in the neighborhood. She is also safer with a father than without one. A child in a fatherless home faces a significantly higher risk of sexual abuse.”
Now are there exceptions to the above evidence? Of course. But exceptions do not make the rule. In the main, children are best served with a loving father and mother, preferably cemented by marriage. There are abusive biological parents, just as there are three-pack-a-day smokers who live to be a hundred. But we should not base public policy on such exceptions.
So the general rule is this: if we are concerned about the safety and well-being of children, then we should do all we can to shore up marriage and family. Support for families must be our highest priority. Government policy must focus on delivering support to children through their families, not apart from families. It is a loving family, not a faceless bureaucrat, that can best look after our children.