International Day of Families

15/05/2012 – Proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, the International Day of Families is a time to understand the issues affecting families and an opportunity to demonstrate support at all levels.

Most of the world’s seven billion inhabitants will not know the hardships of growing up without the love and protection of their family. But, this is the everyday reality for some of the approximately 132 million orphaned children who call sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean home.

Today is the United Nations (UN) sanctioned International Day of Families, observed annually on May 15th. The theme of this year’s celebrations is “Ensuring Work Family Balance.”

The celebrations are being led by the Division for Social Policy and Development, operating out of the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In cooperation with the Nongovernmental Committee on the Family, the division held a panel discussion to bring awareness to the issues affecting families in the current age. Panelists discussed such issues as the benefits of work-family balance for adults and children, as well as childcare. Regional issues in East Asia and Latin America were also touched on in some panelists' topics.

The world is experiencing several new trends when it comes to interactions between the labour force and families: more and more women working, urbanization on the rise and mobility increasing.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has left 16.6 million children orphaned, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. It has also wreaked havoc on traditional family structures, leading to family breakdown in some cases. Even for children who do have one or both parents living, pressures on working parents can disrupt normal family life—despite gains in the employment sector such as maternity and paternity leave and more flexible working arrangements.

“As families become smaller and generations live apart, extended kin are less available to offer care, and employed parents face rising challenges,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in his official statement for today.

Without affordable full-time childcare, women may be forced to leave youngsters home alone or pull older children out of school to mind their younger siblings. Such child-headed households may force children to grow up too soon, forfeiting their rights to childhood and a basic education.

Research suggests that young children should not be left without their parents in poor-quality care arrangements if it can be avoided. There has also been greater agreement on the benefits of early childhood education for children from marginalized communities.

Policies designed to fill such gaps can help support families and improve the trade-offs between work and home life. “Work-family balance policies demonstrate both a government’s commitment to the well-being of families and the private sector’s commitment to social responsibility,” added Mr. Ban.

According to the UN, the International Day of Families is “an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.”