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Thursday, April 17, 2014
- A bill under discussion in the Nicaraguan parliament has unleashed a nationwide debate on the concept of family.
Until a few weeks ago, the draft Family Code, which has been discussed in the single-chamber National Assembly since March, did not recognise any form of family but the traditional nuclear unit based on a legally married or common-law heterosexual couple and their children.
But thanks to intense pressure and protests, many legislators changed their views on several articles in the bill.
They agreed to recognise families that are not limited to blood relations or marriage. Households made up of single mothers or fathers and their children, or of other relatives, such as grandparents, raising grandchildren or other family members, are now also considered families under the bill, the chair of the National Assembly’s justice commission, Irma Dávila, told IPS.
For different reasons, the bill is opposed by Catholic and evangelical churches, homosexual groups, human rights defenders, child rights activists, women’s organisations, and different political sectors.
The draft Family Code establishes that sons and daughters must support parents who are over the age of 60, if the parents have economic problems.
It also states that parents must be responsible for feeding their children until the age of 24, rather than 18 as established in the old Civil Code, which dates back to the early 20th century.
These two provisions have generated discontent among social groups that argue it is unfair to require that parents support their children until they are 24 years old.
Others say it is not fair to force children to support their parents after the age of 60, without taking into account what kind of parents they were.
“There are fathers and mothers who abandon, abuse or mistreat their children and ignore their responsibilities towards them,” special ombudswoman for children and adolescents, Norma Moreno, told IPS. “Obligating someone to take care of a woman or man who never did anything for the family is like rewarding domestic violence.”
Due to the breadth of the bill, which has more than 600 articles, the president of parliament, René Núñez of the governing left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front, announced that segments of the law would be gradually approved over the next few months.
Lawmaker Edipcia Dubón of the social democratic Sandinista Renovation Movement told IPS that the concept of family included in the Family Code would have an impact on property rights.
For instance, if a single-parent household is not recognised as a family, it will not be able to register property as family assets. Nor would it qualify for various benefits, such as the rule that certain family assets cannot be seized by creditors, or tax exemptions on property worth up to 40,000 dollars.
Meanwhile, sexual diversity groups have held marches and protests demanding the right of same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, and the right to be legally recognised as families.
Human rights ombudsman Omar Cabezas formally requested that the right to same-sex marriage be included in the new law, arguing that its exclusion would run counter to the principles of equality and non-discrimination recognised by the constitution and by international conventions signed by Nicaragua.
But Cabezas’ request did not awaken an echo in the legislature, whose refusal to consider the legalisation of same-sex marriage angered sexual diversity organisations and human rights activists.
People and organisations in favour of same-sex civil unions or marriage have held demonstrations and engaged in heated debate in the media and on online social networks, clashing with conservative sectors.
The president of the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference, Sócrates René Sandino, said the Catholic Church ruled out any possibility of recognising any marriage that was not between a man and a woman. The bishops also called for Cabezas to be removed as human rights ombudsman.
The evangelical community also rejected gay marriage.
The Nicaraguan constitution only recognises heterosexual marriage or common-law unions.
Not only churches and the gay community have faced off in the debate on the Family Code.
The president of the Nicaraguan Federation of Associations of People with Disabilities, David López, said the bill discriminates against them by establishing that people with physical limitations are not fit to reach decisions in legal matters involving the family.
López told IPS that several articles of the bill are written in such a way that they are an affront to the dignity of people with disabilities.
He cited article 25, which states that “the supposed disabled person” must provide medical evidence to the legal authorities of the illness or disability he or she suffers, in order to benefit from the legal protection of family assets.
López said this article contravenes the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was passed in 2011. The law established a legal framework and guarantees for the human rights of people with disabilities, and ensured respect for their dignity and equal opportunities, free of discrimination.