28th European Conference of Ministers responsible for Family Affairs ’’Changes in parenting: children today, parents tomorrow ‘’ 
Lisbon, 16 - 17 May 2006 

Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

“Changes in parenting: children today, parents tomorrow”

Lisbon, 16 May 2006

Life is not a crossword puzzle and there is, as a rule, more than one solution to its numerous challenges, and parenting is certainly no exception. To begin with, parenting has a very strong private dimension. It represents an intimate relationship between parents and children, which must be respected. Similarly, parenting is often influenced by different cultural traditions, which must also be taken into account even though – in both cases – such respect cannot and should not be considered as absolute.
 
Diversity notwithstanding, there are some clear general principles which have evolved through time and which cut across cultural and individual divides and differences in order to safeguard children’s rights and interests.
 
In a nutshell – parenting is based on responsibility – not ownership. This may be a crude way of putting it, but it does help to set a clear limit to what parents – or any other adults with responsibilities over children - should do and what they are not allowed to do.
 
The role of policy-makers is secondary, but essential. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989, to which all 46 member States of the Council of Europe are parties to, puts demands on parents, but also says that parents are entitled to support from the state authorities.
 
Similarly, the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe stipulates that “the family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development.”
 
And this, of course, is where you, Ministers come in.
 
I should like to thank the Portuguese authorities for hosting this important conference, and greet, on behalf of the Council of Europe, all the participating delegations, those representing our present and – if the recent proposal of the Luxembourg Prime Minister comes to life – our future member, namely the European Union.  I think that the level of participation testifies to your recognition of the need to find specific, viable and effective answers to the new challenges faced by our societies in the field of family affairs.
 
This 28th Council of Europe conference devoted to family affairs will deal with three separate, but interrelated and equally significant issues; namely devising adequate and effective family policies in the light of demographic changes in Europe and different patterns of family life, and finding ways to support parenting in the best interests of the child as well as reconciling working and family life. Any meaningful family policy must have a comprehensive and consistent answer to all these questions.
 
Challenges presented by the population decline and aging, which affects the majority of our societies, require open-minded and innovative policy making, with the participation of all interested parties, governmental authorities, parents and children, but also civil society and the private sector.
 
I would advocate the same approach to the quickly-evolving patterns of family forms, which are frequently challenging our established attitudes, practices and, occasionally, also our prejudices. There is an obvious need for greater democracy, both in terms of relations within family as well as in terms of the participation of parents and children in policy making.
 
We also need to review the progress we have achieved in reconciling working and family life, which was the subject of our last conference in Portoroz. Much has been done in a number of our member countries, and I welcome the greater access to day care facilities, more flexible working arrangements and increasingly various forms of parental leave. It seems, however, that some countries are lagging behind and in general terms, there is still significant room for progress when it comes to the participation of women in the labour market and greater involvement of men in family life. I would recommend to the Conference to reinforce a gender based approach to these issues, by recognising that we not only deal with parents, or adults, but first and foremost with women and men, mothers and fathers, whose situations differ and call for different but complementary support and action.
 
The fundamental principle of all policy measures should be the best-interest of the children. They should aim to support positive parenting, which can be defined as parenting which is both nurturing and empowering, and which provide the basis and the boundaries allowing the full psychological, physical, emotional, educational and social development of the child.
 
The role of authorities is to create conditions in which parents, and children, are encouraged and enabled to engage in positive parenting.  A Council of Europe recommendation to this effect is presently being drafted by the Committee of Ministers.
 
Of course, if there is positive parenting there is inevitably also its antipode – negative parenting. I shall not try here to define or enumerate all the possible forms of dysfunctional relationships between children and their parents, or, for that matter, any adults with responsibilities towards them.

This is, of course, a vitally important issue and when family relations go wrong and children’s interests are endangered, public authorities not only have a right, but a duty to intervene.
 
On this occasion, however, I should like to concentrate on one specific aspect, where much still needs to be done in Europe, and that is the abolition of corporal punishment of children.
 
I do not intend to spend time on advocating the merits of such abolition. I believe that these are clear and indisputable to any enlightened and responsible person.
 
As adults we have the duty to protect the physical and psychological integrity, and indeed, the human dignity of our children. Respecting their human dignity means that we are not allowed to hit, not allowed to hurt and not allowed to humiliate them. Full-stop. A family environment and relationship between the person who hits and the person who is hit - be they spouses or parents and children - should not be an alibi for violence and we must change our mentalities and adapt our laws accordingly.
 
I shall conclude with this thought and wish you a very productive two days of work. You are here to help create the circumstances for positive parenting and I can hardly imagine a more noble and rewarding task. Childhood should be about growing up, not just growing older, and it is our collective responsibility – as parents and public officials - to give children a chance to grow up and Europe a chance to grow bigger and better.
 
Thank you very much.