Spain lawmakers tell kids to pick up a broom at home

Story by Gina-Maria Garcia

SALAMANCA – In Spain, children may now be forced to stop – and sweep – in the name of the law.

From toddlers to teenagers, Spanish children under the age of 18 may soon be legally obliged to set down the video game controller and start picking up a broom, according to a draft bill in the Spanish Parliament proposed in late April. If passed through the Senate in May, the Child Protection Bill will technically make it against the law to not help out with household chores.

In other words, the new legislation is a Spanish mother or father’s dream come true because it asks their children to respect them, and, as the language in the proposal puts it,  “[carry] out domestic tasks in accordance with their age, regardless of their gender.”

“They have their rights, but they need responsibility too,” says Alberto Gutiérrez Alberca, the senator of the Popular Party for the city of Valladolid who also clarified that this section of the bill is more like a list of expectations of minors. “It’s more of an inspiration. This is not something that they are going to be punishing anybody for. They are trying to make the youngsters help their parents with the chores in the house, to teach them some responsibility.”

XXXX, mother of two, believes the new bill is a good idea.

“For the country, I love it. I think it’s wonderful,” said Maria Palomino, mother of a 4-year-old boy and a 5-month-old girl in Salamanca.

The bill is a complicated and varied set of resolutions that pledge many levels of support for the children in Spain. Some of those include establishing a national register of known pedophiles, creating a process to punish unreported cases of child abuse, and requiring job applicants in child-related fields to provide criminal histories. The “chores at home” provision is under a section of the bill called “Rights and Duties of Children” and also stipulates that youngsters should have a positive attitude in school, be respectful of their family members and keep up with their homework.

The law, if it passes, is not intended as a means to throw children in jail, of course. But experts believe it is a useful doctrine in that it allows parents to refer to a national standard of conduct as they are attempting to get their children to behave.

“The new generation of parents are more permissive. In some cases, the families do not assume that the young children have to help in housework. But inevitably this has consequences,” said Rocío Pérez Lobato, through a translator. He’s been a clinical child psychologist for four years at Hospital Clínico Universitario San Cecilio in Granada, which is in southern Spain.

Lobato continued that many parents end up doing all of the chores themselves because it’s “faster,” which seems to be better for them in the short term, but “it is not the way to educate [them] long-term.”

Caridad Fuentes Fernandez, a social worker for 21 years at Centro de Accion Social in Salamanca, made the point that in Spain, the gender bias is so entrenched in the culture that it’s nearly inconceivable that children, especially male children, will help out at home.

“They need to learn what is responsibility, because responsibility belongs to everyone, regardless of sex and gender,” said Fernandez through a translator. “Since there are daily tasks that must be done for the whole family, it’s not fair that only the women are in charge. Everyone should contribute to the work.”

Salamancan mother of two Mariangeles Garcia certainly agreed. She sees the gender differences in her own home with her son and daughter, and believes it’s something a law like this could help address.

“My daughter that is 2 is always helping with the house, while my son is totally lazy, she said, “so it’s good to set standards for both genders. It’s good because when they grow up, they can both face the world and be eager to work hard and get ahead in life.”

This isn’t the first time Spain has seen a gender-specific domestic law. In 2005, Parliament pushed for national gender equality through the country’s official marriage contract, requiring husbands to split domestic and child-rearing duties with their wives. Like the Child Protection Bill, there were no legal penalties accompanying the guidelines, but both efforts aim to declare men and women as equals.

“For the country, I love it. I think it’s wonderful,” said Maria Palomino, mother of a 4-year-old boy and a 5-month-old girl in Salamanca. These laws are “making them better people for a better country. We have to work together, and Spain is improving that.”

Ultimately, the mothers and the experts don’t expect to see much of a shift as a result of the Child Protection Bill. These bad and unequal behaviors have been in place for generations, they all said. But, they added, that doesn’t mean the people of Spain shouldn’t pursue a higher standard of childhood responsibility and gender equality. And, they said they should not relent on the objective to create, in their children, motivated and driven individuals who learn equal tolerance and respect for others.

“If the goal of gender equality in housework is achieved, we will be getting an equal tolerance and respect. But this can only be achieved if parents also implement [it], because the children learn by imitation,” said Lobato, the child psychologist. “The main thing is that the parents understand why this law is important and they transmit it to their children. Otherwise the effect will be minimal [to none.]”

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About carlenehempel

I teach journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, and am leading a team of students abroad to report and write.

Posted on May 17, 2014, in Reporting from Salamanca and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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