International Law, Social Change and the Family

February 5, 2003

Richard G. Wilkins

The last half of the past century has manufactured more social change than perhaps any other period in world history. Modifications of social machinery are swiftly affecting all aspects of life – particularly the natural family: motherhood, fatherhood and childhood. While there are many causes for the breathtaking speed of these modern developments, I would like to focus on one particular engine for social revolution: the unprecedented, rapid development of international law. Conferences and international conventions sponsored by the UN system are promulgating norms that alter dramatically the natural family. Whether much of this social experimentation is sound, however, is questionable. Solid empirical evidence supports the conclusion that the long-established and natural institutions of marriage, family, motherhood, fatherhood and childhood are essential to the social health of men, women – and particularly children. Moreover, social science evidence demonstrates that, as societies around the world depart from these natural norms, the family – and our children – are becoming increasingly fragile. Furthermore, and quite unfortunately, some well-intentioned international tinkering actually may be hastening the world’s growing social fragility.

International Law, Social Change and the Family