February 16th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Battle lines drawn for US Presidential race

EDITORIAL: Mitsubishi closure a blow to our manufacturing

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Will Rudd summit achieve anything?

BIOFUELS: Sugar industry - execution by policy madness

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: EI inquiry hears of more quarantine failures

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: The lessons of the past we so quickly forget

STRAWS IN THE WIND: A new Bunyip intelligentsia? / Paddy McGuinness dies / The homeless

ASIA: Re-shaping Asia: The Great Game Mark II

INDONESIA: More good than bad: Suharto (1921-2008)

FATHERHOOD: Making men redundant (and harming our children)

FAMILY POLICY: Family-friendly policies at risk

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Melbourne doctor's bid to decriminalise abortion

UNITED STATES: America's wrong course

LEADERSHIP: Five keys to democratic statesmanship

Demise of The Bulletin (letter)

Re-opening of South Gippsland rail? (letter)

Foreign intervention (letter)

The "more committees" fetish (letter)


BOOKS: CLASSICS: 62 Great Books from the Iliad to Midnight's Children, by Jane Gleeson-White

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Making men redundant (and harming our children)

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, February 16, 2008
Scientists in the UK now claim they can produce sperm without men, thereby threatening the biological role of fathers. Bill Muehlenberg looks at what a fatherless world would be like for our children.

It had to come to this. Add one part political correctness, two parts social engineering, and three parts biotechnology, and what do you get? The redundant male.

Scientists in the United Kingdom have said that they are now able to produce sperm without men. As reported in New Scientist, the British researchers say they can turn female bone-marrow into sperm through the use of special chemicals and vitamins.

The Newcastle-upon-Tyne University scientists, having already performed the technique on mice, say the process could be available for humans in two years.

The process, of course, can further smooth the way to cut men out of family life altogether, allowing lesbians and single women to have their own children.


Indeed, the social engineers and minority activist groups are well aware of the potential here. An American analyst, Greg Aharonian, is trying to patent the technologies both for female sperm and male eggs.

Calling himself a "troublemaker", he says he wants to undermine the argument for heterosexual marriage (Peter Aldhous, "Are male eggs and female sperm on the horizon?", New Scientist, February 2, 2008).

The new biotechnologies, along with the new ethics - or lack of them - have meant that men have increasingly been shoved out of the picture. Family life is being radically redefined by the new biomedicines and the social engineers.

But a question remains: what about the children? Will the brave new worlds of reproductive technologies have any implications for those so conceived? Is this in fact in the best interests of the children?

Fortunately, we already know the answers to these questions. Over four decades of social science research has shown the very negative consequences children experience when not raised by their biological father. Simply put, father absence has been shown to be a major disadvantage to the well-being of children.

The following is a very brief summary of the evidence for the importance of fathers and the need for two-parent families.

Consider some economic consequences. In America, among families with dependent children, only 8 per cent of married couples were living below the poverty line, compared to 47 percent of female-headed households. In Australia, a recent study of 500 divorcees with children, five to eight years after the separation, found that four in five divorced mothers were dependent on social security after their marriages dissolved.

Figures from Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research show that family break-up, rather than unemployment, is the main cause of the rise in poverty levels in Australia.

Educational performance is also affected by father-absence. American school-children who suffer father-absence early in life generally scored significantly lower on measures of IQ and achievement tests.

A study of Australian primary school children from three family types (married heterosexual couples, cohabiting heterosexual couples and homosexual couples) found that, in every area of educational endeavour (language, mathematics, social studies, sport, class work, sociability, popularity and attitudes to learning), children from married heterosexual couples performed better than the other two groups.

The study concludes with these words: "Married couples seem to offer the best environment for a child's social and educational development."

A Melbourne University study of 212 children found that fathers, even more than mothers, had a major beneficial influence on children in their first year of school. The study found that kids with regular father involvement were more co-operative and self-reliant in school than kids who did not have father involvement.

Crime wave

Criminal involvement is also greatly impacted by parental divorce and growing up without a dad. A British study found a direct statistical link between single parenthood and virtually every major type of crime, including mugging, violence against strangers, car theft and burglary. In Australia, a recent book noted the connection between broken families and crime. In a discussion of rising crime rates in Western Australia, the book reported that "family breakdown in the form of divorce and separation is the main cause of the crime wave".

The likelihood of drug involvement also increases. A US study found that, among the homes with strict fathers, only 18 per cent had children who used alcohol or drugs at all. In contrast, among mother-dominated homes, 35 per cent had children who used drugs frequently. And a New Zealand study of nearly 1,000 children, observed over a period of 15 years, found that children who have watched their parents separate are more likely to use illegal drugs than those whose parents stay together.

Sexual problems also increase. Studies from many different cultures have found that girls raised without fathers are more likely to be sexually active, and to start early sexual activity. As one authority put it, "father-deprived girls show precocious sexual interest, derogation of masculinity and males, and poor ability to maintain sexual and emotional adjustment with one male". New Zealand research has found that the absence of a father is a major factor in the early onset of puberty and teenage pregnancy.

A British study found that girls brought up by lone parents were a) twice as likely to leave home by the age of 18 as were daughters from intact homes; b) were three times as likely to be cohabiting by the age of 20; and c) almost three times as likely to have a birth out of wedlock.

A child's mental and emotional well-being is also put at risk. From nations as diverse as Finland and South Africa, a number of studies have reported that anywhere from 50 to 80 per cent of psychiatric patients come from broken homes. A Canadian study of teenagers discharged from psychiatric hospitals found that only 16 per cent were living with both parents when they were admitted.

And there is a much greater risk of child abuse when the biological father is absent. 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".

In Australia, 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 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that "a relatively high proportion of substantiations [of child abuse] involved children living in female-headed one-parent families and in two-parent step or blended families".

One leading expert in developmental psychology, from Cornell University, summarises the evidence in this fashion: "Controlling for associated factors such as low income, children growing up in [single-parent] households are at greater risk for experiencing a variety of behavioral and educational problems, including extremes of hyperactivity or withdrawal; lack of attentiveness in the classroom; difficulty in deferring gratification; impaired academic achievement; school misbehavior; absenteeism; dropping out; involvement in socially alienated peer groups; and, especially, the so-called 'teenage syndrome' of behaviors that tend to hang together - smoking, drinking, early and frequent sexual experience, a cynical attitude to work, adolescent pregnancy and, in the more extreme cases, drugs, suicide, vandalism, violence and criminal acts."

Long-term threat

Another expert puts it this way: "There exists today no greater single threat to the long-term well-being of children, our communities, or our nation, than the increasing number of children being raised without a committed, responsible, and loving father."

With the rise of fatherlessness, Australia and the Western world have also experienced a marked rise in social problems. And the brunt of these problems has been borne by children.

We owe it to our children to do better. The radical social engineers may salivate over news of maleless sperm, but this is bad news indeed for our children. Once again, the selfish whims of adults are trumping the legitimate concerns of our vulnerable children.

- Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures in ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com

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