LIVING TOGETHER OUTSIDE MARRIAGE!

Living together before getting married, or cohabiting as it is more commonly known, is a cosy option among young people in the West, and is progressively catching on in .many Asian countries. It is said that about half of the couples in the United States and Britain would have lived together before marriage. One can learn about it in the movies and in the papers. In the conservative East, on the other hand, living together before marriage is still very much a taboo. The mere mention of the subject is enough to be frowned upon particularly by the elders. We must add however that as the world is shrinking so fast many of these values are being adopted in the East as well, especially in urban areas.


In the United States, where living together out of wedlock is becoming increasingly acceptable, one out of three marriages results in divorce.

Tragic cases do occur in situations where couples live together out of wedlock, for example when the female partner gets pregnant and the male partner later disclaims responsibility. This often leads to the problem of unwed mothers.

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN!

The Buddha says that if we are to understand anything, we must learn to 'see things as they are'. It is after such analysis of women in relation to men, that He came to the conclusion that there is no impediment in women to enable them to practise religion as men do and attain the highest state in life, which is Arahanthood or Sainthood, the highest level of mental purity. The Buddha had to face strong opposition in giving full freedom to women to practise religion.

At the time of the Buddha, before He emancipated women, the customs and traditions were such that the women were considered as chattel, to be used by men at their pleasure. Manu, the ancient lawgiver of India, had decreed that women were inferior to men. Women's position in society was therefore very low, and it was restricted to the kitchen. They were not even allowed to enter temples and to participate in religious activities in any manner whatsoever.


As we have previously noted under the heading 'Birth Control', discrimination against females begins even before the child is born into this world! The widespread practice of female foeticide prevalent in many parts of the world today testifies to this horrifying fact. Further on, under the heading 'Women's Liberation Movement and its Effect on Family Life', the discrimination against women in affluent societies, particularly those aspiring for top managerial positions in the corporate sector, will be dealt with in detail

In developing and underdeveloped countries however, the situation can only be described as being far worse and more deplorable as the following accounts will reveal.

In India's ritualistic, male dominated society, widowhood is a terrible fate for a woman. There are numerous cases of widows (some still in their 20s) who were cast away from their families and shunned by society after their husband died.

Among superstitious families, a widow often is blamed by her in-laws for her husband's death and is even ostracised. There are few options left for widows. Hindus frown on remarriage for women, although there are no such barriers for men. Until modern times, widows were expected to jump on to the funeral pyre of their husbands according to a tradition known as sati. Although the practice was outlawed by the British several decades ago, the last known case occurred as recently as 1996. Most women in India have little to look forward to when they become widows.

One typical tragic example could be cited of a widow who underwent child marriage which is another custom prevalent in rural India. She laments: 'I was married off when I was only five years old. My husband, whom I never saw, was 13 and he died one month after the wedding. I am now a widow.'
According to the World Bank, 65% of Indian women older than 60 are widows. That figure rises to 80% women older than 70.

The All India Democratic Women's Association reports that in India where a woman's identity is determined by her being an appendage to a male, widowhood has much larger implications than just losing a husband.

The situation is no better even in some other neighbouring countries. For a long time, families regarded daughters as inferior to sons and treated them accordingly. A girl is generally seen as suitable only for household chores. She lives through a series of social practices which generate, breed and reinforce discrimination against her. She becomes an economic burden and a moral liability. Yet, she is expected to raise healthy, hardworking and educated children and be a good mother. Many little boys grow up thinking their sisters are inferior having seen them treated less well than themselves. These beliefs are reinforced by many members of the society, including women themselves.

Perhaps the single biggest issue is the lack of support and the restrictions girls face if they want to do something with their lives beyond the traditional roles assigned to them as domestic help, baby-sitters for younger siblings, cooks and cleaners. In effect, girls are under life-long training to be good wives when they grow up.

As a 16 year old girl from Rawalpindi, points out: 'Our society does not treat girls well. People here do not educate their girls because to them girls are not theirs. Girls are seen as belonging to their future in-laws' families and any investment in their future is futile. They go to their husbands' homes at a young age, usually anywhere from 13. The rest of their lives is spent looking after in-laws, and bearing and bringing up children to prolong and strengthen their husband's family line'.

We need to eradicate this type of thinking and make education compulsory and free so that it does not become an issue' she says. 'Girls should also be able to have jobs, working in places where no one disapproves and preferably with other girls so parents can't object. I have always regretted that I was born a girl. Sometimes when I was not allowed to do something I would go to my room, cry and pray to God to make me a boy'.

The Girl Child Project in such countries is slowly changing all this by developing a core of young girls to act as catalysts in creating local awareness of the problems of girls and the discrimination they face.

The issue of education crops up almost invariably. Many girls have had to fight for their right to education. Some were helped in this fight by their untutored mothers who believed that their own lives would have been better if they had had some schooling.

In many societies a woman's place is in the home; a married woman owes her first allegiance to her duties as wife and mother. There is no such thing as 'women's lib'. Even in some progressive societies women are humiliated. For example in public places, they are required not only to sit apart from the men, but out of their view -- that is, behind them. When women are placed at the back of a room or hall, it acts as a subtle indication that their expected role is 'behind' and not 'together with' that of the men.

Some people believe that women are prone to evil. Therefore, it would be better to get them do more domestic work so that they can forget their natural evil attitude.

CHILDREN AND SEX EDUCATION!

Teaching children the facts of sex and sexual development needs to be done with care, sensitivity and in a holistic manner. Coping with changes in sexual development is an issue every child must face, and the challenge is even more critical for children during their early formative years. Educators and parents must therefore regard sexuality as part of human drives and needs that must be correctly channelled.

The necessity for giving correct information about sexual development to children is of paramount importance. Children nowadays are exposed to knowledge about sex through the mass media (often with gory details), books, through the Internet and also from their peers, and if they are not taught to differentiate between what is appropriate and what is not, they might end up exhibiting inappropriate behaviour. No parents will ever want their children to obtain information on sexual development from the gutter.

Parents can impart knowledge of sex to their children but such information needs to be tailored to the child's level of understanding -- in this case, the mental age, which may not correspond to the child's chronological age. Children are very innocent and can easily be victims of sexual abuse in the hands of unscrupulous adults. The child may not even realize that he is being used as an object to gratify the deviant sexual needs of adults.

One important area is the need to inform children as to what constitutes 'appropriate and inappropriate touching'. The importance of giving such awareness to children is stressed on parents. The child needs to know who is allowed to touch him or her and when, and where; what a doctor can touch, situations the child should avoid, and how best to stop inappropriate conduct in the classroom.
Parents themselves need to be aware that inappropriate touching could also happen between relatives. For instance, parents usually tell their children to 'beware of strangers', yet studies have shown that in child sexual abuse cases, the majority of abusers are in fact known to the child, or are members of the child's own family.

As with other children in society, children require open lines of communication with their parents. This would include openness in discussing issues connected with sex. If any untoward physical contact has occurred they should be comfortable in telling their parents about it, instead of being too ashamed or too afraid to reveal details.

Sex education is important because one cannot expect teenagers to follow rules blindly without knowing why they must follow them. One of the subjects they should be educated about is why they should abstain from sex until after marriage.Many people oppose sex education for children because they think that 'once you tell them about it, they will go out and abuse it.' It is significant to note that in Switzerland, sex education is taught in kindergartens and that country has the lowest number of teenage pregnancies in the world. What is vitally important is that children be taught responsible sexual behaviour from the time they are ready for such instruction. A sound sexual education will save the child untold stress from guilt, fear, remorse and retribution in the future.

LISTEN TO THE ELDERS!

It is not necessary to have personal experience in certain things to understand whether they are good or bad. Here is a an analogy for you to understand this situation. A shoal of fishes come across an obstruction in the water with an unusually small opening. It is actually a trap laid by a fisherman to catch the fish.

Some fish want to go inside the fence and see what it is, but the more experienced fish advise them not to do so because it must be a dangerous trap. The young fish asks, 'How do we know whether it is dangerous or not? We must go in and see, only then can we understand what it is.' So some of them go in and get caught in the trap.


We must be prepared to accept the advice given by wise men like the Buddha who is enlightened. Of course the Buddha himself has said that we must not accept his teachings blindly. At the same time we can listen to some wise ones or other religious teachers. This is simply because their experience is more advanced than our limited knowledge regarding our worldly lives.

Parents usually advise their children to do certain things and not others. By neglecting the advice given by the elders, young people do many things according to their own way of thinking. Eventually when they get into trouble, they remember the elders and religious teachers and seek their help and sometimes even ask the religious teachers to pray for them.

Only then do they remember religion and seek some blessing and guidance. But they do not think the main purpose of a religion is to help us to follow certain noble principles to avoid many of our problems before they confront us. Early religious education trains the mind to cultivate the universal principles which support our way of life to live peacefully.

CAN WE CHANGE OTHERS WITHOUT CHANGING OURSELVES???

Man by nature is gifted with intelligence. From childhood to adolescence his perception of life would be one of youthful vigour with lofty ideals and aspirations. As he reaches manhood, the age of reason dawns on him, and with his mature outlook, he soon realises that his utopian ideals held by him during his youth would have to be cast aside, and that he would have to perceive life afresh in its true perspective. With advancing age, and with mellowed outlook in life, he finds he has to change and adjust his lifestyle accordingly. Even his lofty ambitions in life held eminently by him in his younger days, will eventually have to come to terms with the realities of change. Such is the inevitable life cycle affecting Man and his ambitions.


'When I was young I set out to change the world.

When I grew older I perceived that this was too ambitious, so I set out to change my state.

This too, I realised as I grew older, was too ambitious, so I set out to change my town.

When I realised that I could not do even this, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man I know that I should have started by changing myself.

If I had started with myself, maybe then I would have succeeded in changing my family, the town, or even the state and who knows, maybe the world.'

The most intelligent man and the real stupid man both do not agree to change the mind. (Confucius)

THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD CARE FOR YOUR AGED PARENTS!

As parents age, it is inevitable that their bodies will gradually weaken and deteriorate in a variety of ways, making them increasingly susceptible to physical illnesses that can affect every organ in their system. As the realisation grows that there is no escape, the aging individual must try to find some way to come to terms with the disturbing new reality.

Filial piety is an important factor in caring for the aged in our traditional Asian society. As Asians it has long been the norm for us to accommodate and nurse the aged parents in our own homes as far as possible.



Do children owe any legal liability to care for old and disabled parents? Unfortunately the answer is 'No'. Parents simply have to depend on the goodwill of their children. Although we are proud about our values, and cultural heritage, unfortunately the number of elderly citizens with no savings and abandoned by their families is growing in Asia. The problem for us to consider is whether our values, including filial devotion and reciprocal love for children are being eroded because of a breakdown in traditional family relations and a changed economic and demographic profile.


Cramped flats and squatter houses are not places which are conducive to the accommodation of aged parents. There have been numerous cases in which old people have been neglected by their children or their relatives. This is a sad situation where good values and traditions are no longer practiced.

Welfare homes and their environment for the most part are also not places which are conducive to the accommodation of aged parents. Of all living alternatives, placement in an Old Folks Home is without doubt the most sensitive issue often provoking guilt through self accusations of ingratitude, lack of devotion or filial piety and abandonment.

A nursing home, although somewhat expensive, offers the most satisfactory alternative. Each person must decide for himself and understand that there are no perfect choices. While long term institutionalization is a painful issue, it is essential to provide appropriate care for a debilitated parent.

Placement in a nursing facility does not mean 'putting your aged parent away', or at least it shouldn't. Family involvement remains essential for proper care, from the first step of choosing the facility, to maintaining an ongoing relationship with the staff, to regularly visiting the parent and involving him or her in family matters. They need cheering up and to know that there are people who really care for them.


Certain irresponsible persons with ill or aged parents get them admitted into third class wards of hospitals, leaving false addresses and just disappear from the scene. This indeed is a most cruel way of disposing of one's own aged parents.


A caring attitude as well as concern for the aged parents must prevail if the older generation is not to be adversely affected by the rapid socio-economic changes of urbanisation and industrialisation. It has to be realised that the aged are more affected by these changes and the degradation of moral values in society. It should also encompass the responsible manner in which the elderly are treated, cared for, respected and honoured.

This aspect of caring for the aged parents requires collective responsibility. It will also instil respect for the elderly as there is no better institution to care for the aged parents other than the family itself.

In many discourses the Buddha has advised children to pay special attention to father and mother. There is an old adage which says: 'Take good care of your parents for you will never know how much you miss them when they are gone.