Speech at Legal Policy Dialogue “Amending the Law on Marriage and Family from a Human Right Based Perspective”

25 Nov 2013

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Speaker: UNDP Country Director, Ms. Louise Chamberlain
Date:     Monday, 25 November 2013
Event:   Legal Policy Dialogue “Amending the Law on Marriage and Family from a Human Right Based Perspective”
Venue:  Sheraton Hanoi Hotel, K5 Nghi Tam, 11 Xuan Dieu Road

Mr. Hoàng Thế Liên, Vice Minister of Justice
Mdm. Nguyễn Thúy Anh, Vice Chair of the Committee of Social Affairs of the National Assembly,
Distinguished representatives of the National Assembly, Supreme People’s Procuracy, Ministry of Justice and other justice institutions
Esteemed colleagues from development partners and civil society organizations
Distinguished experts on the Law
Ladies and gentlemen
Good morning!

I would like to welcome you warmly to the Policy Dialogue today as part of UNDP’s ongoing cooperation with the Ministry of Justice on the implementation of the legal system development strategy, and the judicial reform strategy in Viet Nam. This periodic legal policy dialogue by now has been established as an important forum for discussion between the United Nations, the Government and development partners on priorities in the legal and judicial reform agenda.

As many of you know, today is the international day against the elimination of violence against women and girls. Violence most commonly happens unnoticed in the private sphere of the home. Violence in all forms threatens the stability and viability of the family and therefore it is a relevant point for consideration in our discussion today. In many instances it is a cause of separation and divorce. Together with the Law on Gender Equality and the Law on Domestic Violence, the Law on Family and Marriage provides for an important protection mechanism to help families, women and children in coping with the consequences of domestic violence.

I encourage you all to participate in the 16 days of activism against violence against women which is currently being conducted under the leadership of MOLISA and with support from the entire UN Country Team in Viet Nam. This year’s campaign focuses on “Re-defining the images of Vietnamese men and masculinity concepts in the media and everyday life” In particular, the campaign aims to initiate discussions about masculinity and the positive roles of men in the family and their contributions to the prevention of Gender-Based Violence. We wear orange colour today in support of this cause, and I encourage you to all to wear the white ribbon which is the symbol of this campaign worldwide.

Regarding the topic of our dialogue today, I would like to acknowledge the Ministry of Justice’s very proactive approach in preparing for revisions of the Law on Family and Marriage. The UN in Viet Nam supports the Ministry, the National Assembly and civil society in reforming the Law on Marriage and Family with a view to improve its effectiveness and strengthen the promotion of human rights in Viet Nam, in particular with regards to the elimination of gender based discrimination.

The amendment of The Law on Marriage and Family is currently under review in the National Assembly. From a human rights  perspective several issues are being debated. For example, because of the prevailing gendered division of labour in the home - with women traditionally sharing a significantly larger burden of unpaid household work, caring for children and the elderly than male members of the family - they are in a more vulnerable positions, especially upon separation and divorce because their unpaid work is not accounted for. So far there has been insufficient protection by the law of the spouse who is performing unpaid family duties, and up to now enforcement bodies have not succeeded in sufficiently enforcing the family’s primary financial care taker’s obligation to share household assets equally or to provide sufficient support for children upon separation or divorce. Therefore it is essential for the law to further strengthen protection mechanisms of women and children during marriage and divorce.

Other non-traditional family concerns such as sexual orientation and gender identity also need to be addressed as part of this law, same sex couples, transgender and intersex people are also forming families and have children. Many times fighting stigma and discrimination and societal norms here, the law can help protect and recognize their human right, like everybody else’s, and take a clear stance against the prejudice and discrimination that many face in everyday life and a positive position on their equal rights. Therefore, besides eliminating discrimination against women and children as part of the ongoing law revision, the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people whose social status has been increasing in Viet Nam over the years need to be better protected in the law. With regards to LGBT, there is still a lack of legal recognition of relationships between two people of the same sex, which makes this group vulnerable to discrimination. Moreover, transgender and intersex people who cannot fit into either male or female genders are excluded from the laws, marginalized, and made invisible from society.

In considering this issue, lawmakers will need to consider that the lack of legal recognition between two people of the same sex, or transgender and intersex people also marginalizes their children who cannot receive legitimate care and support from both parents. There are also other important issues such as property and inheritance rights.

We encourage the legislators to develop the law in a way which 1) provides for much needed protection mechanisms for women and children; 2) which importantly uses more gender neutral language there by extending same duties and obligations to both genders equally and 3) which provides ways to better protect same sex couples relationships including their children.

Finally, we would like to encourage the lawmakers to offer enough time to conduct public consultations on the draft law to give people a chance to raise a variety of the perspectives of the end users of the law over and above international standards and will help ensure that the law is anchored in modern Vietnamese society today.

A wide discussion on the law will help in addressing the question what it means to be a good husband and wife within the context of a family life which cherishes equality of all its members and to also ensure that the voices of marginalized groups such as including also single headed households are part of the debate.

I hope that today’s discussion will share not only different perspectives but also very concrete solutions and suggestions that can contribute to a more robust law on Marriage and Family that fully embraces and protects the rights of all citizens and family members. I look forward to your contributions and a very productive dialogue this morning!

Thank you.