The United Nations today marked the International Day of Families with calls to adapt to the profound social changes taking place and appeals to discourage child marriage and promote secondary education and gender equality.
In his message for the Day, whose theme this year is ‘Changing Families: Challenges and Opportunities,’ Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted recent profound transformations such as the worldwide decrease in average family size, an increase in the age at which couples marry or mothers have their first birth, and a decline in infant mortality rates.
“Many of these transformations call into question the structure of society as we know it,” he said. “They require us to work together to adapt, to shape public policy in a way that addresses the needs of families, to ensure that basic services such as education and health are provided to all citizens - especially children – irrespective of their family situation.”
Other changes he highlighted included the replacement of the traditional, extended family by the nuclear unit even as grandparents live longer, alternative unions such as unmarried cohabitation, increased divorce with more children living in a family with a step-parent, and significant numbers of single-parent families and single-person households with a rising number of older persons living alone.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is also wreaking havoc on families, often depriving children of their parents, leaving grandparents to care for children.
“During this time of ongoing change, we need to build an environment that sustains and supports families, while reinforcing the opportunities for fulfilment that a positive family life provides,” he concluded.
The Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said one of the most dramatic transformations is urbanization with nearly half of all people living in cities compared to less than 15 per cent a century ago. The numbers of children attending school, especially girls, has risen and, as a result, there are more and more women participating in the formal workforce, she added.
“Today, UNFPA calls on communities and nations to actively discourage child marriage and to promote secondary education, gender equality and economic opportunities for young women and men,” she declared. “UNFPA also calls on governments to increase investments in sexual and reproductive health.
“Today, millions of children are orphaned each year because their mothers die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, or from AIDS. Surely, we can do better. Many lives could be saved, and families strengthened, if the international goal of universal access to reproductive health were achieved.”