Federal Parliament: Plenary Proceedings of 05/09/1996

Heidemarie Lüth (PDS): There we finally have it: the first reading of the proposed legislation by the Federal Government to reform parenting rights, distributed as a publication on Monday. For a long time, organizations, associations, lawyers, mothers and fathers, children and adolescents taking part at youth round table discussions where a high degree of understanding is displayed, have all counseled the necessity for reform. The Federal Government itself emphasized this step at regular intervals. From this perspective, this is a necessary but long overdue matter.

Doubts should, however, be expressed concerning the seriousness and the actual political will to treat this manner with the appropriate degree of parliamentary gravity. Were one to take seriously a statement made by the coalition and repeated by the Minister, then the time and the amount of television coverage given to the debate would be two vital cornerstones for entering into discussions. This would miss the mark! On the other hand, the ranking of this agenda item on the scale of decisions concerning the entire package of social atrocities indicates just how seriously the will of the "soothsayers" in the Upper House is to deal with an actual reform of the legal regulation of parenting rights. Those who would deliver the increase in child support payments to the fiscal ax of the financially secure Mr. Waigel, himself the father of a new family, do not need this moral obligation either.

I have some idea of what my colleague, Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, must feel when she sees the degree of qualification with which the proposed legislation is treated; legislation which is primarily the result of her commitment to legal questions concerning children and adolescents. It should therefore be self-evident that this topic and this legislation should not deteriorate into a mere party/political profile discussion.

During the first reading, we feel that it is necessary to emphasize the following reflections: A reform of parenting rights is long overdue, and the necessity for Parliament to act is therefore urgently indicated.

Any ossification and separation from reality in the legislative process are to be overcome in order to recognize the social realities in this country, to take European requirements into account, to benefit the UN children's convention, to include the decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court, and to fulfill the need for action in this area six years after the joining of the GDR to the FRG.

In my opinion, the greatest danger arising from the construct of the legislation is that the contemplated reforms get stuck in organizational policy measures, sociopolitical concerns about child welfare remain outside, and everything becomes tailored to conservative concepts of marriage; that the term family is cemented to other forms of familial associations by more-or-less "redefining" the term marriage, and; that men are legally granted the right to contact with children according to the motto: "rights for the father, obligation and responsibility for the mother". The opportunity to prepare actual, binding, emancipatory formulations for mothers and fathers is continuously sacrificed. This becomes apparent in every effort -- no matter how welcome -- to equalize the status of legitimate children and those born out of wedlock.

We do not feel that it is possible to make decisions regarding parenting rights without defining the term "child welfare" so that it can actually enter political and legal usage as the basis for decisions.

The primary criticism is directed at the fact that, throughout the legislation, there is no accord with Art. 12 of the UN children's convention. As is known, it states the following: "The signatory nations shall ensure that the child is capable of forming its own opinion, the right to make these opinions freely known in all matters affecting to the child, and that the opinion of the child is considered to a degree reflecting the child's age and maturity." The recommended regulation of custody rights, contact rights, adoption rights, etc., etc., document this.

What is required is a thorough debate of the proposal as a whole and of its individual items, as well as testimony of experts and affected parties. Actually, a very wide-ranging, public discussion. A basis for this could be the initial responses of associations. As an optimist, I also hope expert testimony will be gathered. As a realist, however, I am aware of the degree to which this expert testimony will be regarded by the governing coalition.