In a meeting held to observe the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family, representatives of the General Assembly said the role of the family was essential in promoting social stability and economic development and that families should be afforded the same rights, importance, and dignity as individuals.
Though they agreed that States should provide legal and material support to families, and the post-2015 agenda should place the family at its policy nexus, there was no universal agreement on what the definition of a “family” should be. What was clear, they concurred, was that the existence of families in society provided stability and economic growth, and even promoted healthier lives.
Speaking on behalf of the Assembly President, Pakistan’s representative said the International Year had raised awareness about socioeconomic and demographic trends affecting families, which had led to Assembly resolutions that made families the actors in, and beneficiaries of, development efforts. Three major themes had become the anniversary’s focus: confronting family poverty, ensuring work-family balance, and advancing social integration and intergenerational solidarity.
Indonesia’s representative said the family’s elaboration in the post-2015 development agenda would help reduce inequality and contribute to the sustainable development goals. Brazil’s representative said that against the backdrop of increasing poverty worldwide now was the time to make adjustments and correct priorities, and in doing so the definition of family should be open-minded.
Echoing that sentiment, Colombia’s representative said her Government paid special attention to all forms of family, including those comprising a single father, aunts and uncles raising children, migrant parents living in different countries, or families headed by same-sex couples.
But Egypt’s representative expressed disappointment with resolutions introduced in the Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) which had included notions of gender identity and sexual orientation relating to family and children. Such notions were neither universally accepted nor reflected in any consensually-adopted international human rights instrument.
As women around the world wrestled with the demands of simultaneously raising a family while holding a job, there was a special focus from several delegates on the importance of gender equality. “Gender equality is not just an important right, it is also smart economics,” said the representative of Norway.
Several delegates stressed that extending protections and rights to families, either as legal entities or as social units, were important in the elaboration of most of their respective national systems. Monaco’s representative said her Government provided retirement homes for couples, among other important family assistance programmes. In the Russian Federation, multi-child families received benefits such as parcels of land to build a home, and free transportation, according to that country’s representative.
Also today, the Assembly adopted without a vote a draft resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe, which was introduced by Azerbaijan’s representative. By its terms, the Assembly reiterated its call for reinforcing cooperation between the two bodies in protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and promotion of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, among other areas. The Assembly also confirmed its recognition of the key role of the European Court of Human Rights in Europe in that regard, and the Council’s role in upholding the rule of law and fighting impunity.
Further to the text, the Assembly recognized the role of the revised European Social Charter and the European Committee of Social Rights in protecting economic and social rights, as well as welcomed and encouraged close collaboration between the Council and various United Nations bodies concerned with the rights and protection of children refugees and women, and the fights against human and drug trafficking, terrorism, sexual abuse and gender-related violence.
Speaking after the action, the European Union Delegation’s representative regretted that the call for a moratorium on the use of death penalty had not been incorporated into the text despite an appeal from several delegations during informal consultations. He urged its inclusion in future Assembly resolutions on the matter.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Hungary, Kuwait, Qatar, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Iran, United States, as well as the Permanent Observer of the Holy See.
Masood Khan (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, said that the International Year of the Family had helped raise awareness of family issues and promoted knowledge of socio-economic and demographic trends affecting families. Subsequent Assembly resolutions had recommended specific actions to ensure that the family was both a participant and a beneficiary of development efforts. Preparations for the twentieth anniversary of the International Year had focused on three major themes, such as confronting family poverty and social exclusion, ensuring work-family balance, and advancing social integration and intergenerational solidarity.
Gender equality and empowerment, he added, were a key priority for this year’s Assembly session and would be the subject of a high-level thematic debate to be convened in March next year. Such values had their roots in the home. “Raising boys to respect their mothers and sisters leads to societies where women are treated respectfully, not just in practice, but under the law, as well,” he added. The HeforShe campaign further solidified the integral role of boys and men for achieving gender equality. As the world looked ahead to the formulation of the post-2015 development agenda, it was vital to remember the important role of families.
Eva Charlotta Schlyter, a representative of the European Union Delegation, recognized the crucial role of parents, care givers and families in improving outcomes for children and young people, as well as the important role of families concerning care for the elderly. Families made a valuable contribution to strengthening societies and supported the need to develop policies strengthening their role. A transformative post-2015 development agenda could not be realised without engagement of people through all levels of society. But for those policies to be successful, they must also be inclusive. Ongoing policy discussion and development should continue to reflect the diversity of family forms.
Gergely Prohle (Hungary) said it was crucial to reinforce the beliefs that held the family together. In considering worldwide demography, States would have to be aware of the different characteristics in each country, such as the increase in the ageing population. The Hungarian Government continued to place importance on families. Marriage was defined as a union between a man and a woman, and in its laws, the Government protected the life of the foetus from the time of conception. Family protection was a task shared by the State and non-State organizations, including the media and religious organizations. But the Government did not judge those who decided not to have children. Long-term security was important for a long life, and it was crucial for the well-being of society and a strong economy. In the post-2015 period, the role of families would not decrease, and families should be given an increasingly significant role. Families should have the rights and protections that other groups have under United Nations protections.
Anas E. Al Saloom (Kuwait) said that the international community had acknowledged the importance of policies and programmes aimed at the family because the family was the main unit of society and the foundation of social development. Strategies for the well-being of the family were strategies for the well-being of society. The Kuwaiti Constitution affirmed that the family was the basis of “religion, society, and love of the country.” A 2008 law had considered the need for taking certain tests before marriage to ensure that generations were protected from diseases. The Government was also considering the establishment of family courts with psychological advisors to address family-specific problems. Kuwait was also committed to the rights of the children and the rights of people with disability. Calling on Member States to implement family strategies that prioritized the young, elderly and the disabled, he added that his delegation supported the draft resolution on the subject, presented by Bolivia’s representative on behalf of Group of 77 and China.
Alexander Pankin (Russian Federation) said supporting the family was one of his Government’s priorities, and part of its strategic goals. Strengthening the institution of the family, a union between a man and a woman, was important for stability. On 25 June the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the protection of the family, reinforcing the importance of the family. In the Russian Federation an important step had been taken as the Government had developed a concept paper that, projecting up to 2025, would support the family and family values. The State shared in addressing the risks families encountered, and worked to help spare families from poverty and want. Multi-child families received certain benefits such as free transit and parcels of land for construction of residences. The traditional family lay at the heart of Russian society.
Alya Ahmed Al-Thani (Qatar) said that the twentieth anniversary of the International Year was a unique opportunity to highlight the role of the family in promoting development. There were great challenges facing families, ranging from poverty to lack of work-family balance. There was a dire need for strategies and programmes that met the needs of all family members. Qatar supported creating enabling environments for families through policies that promoted the well-being of children. The Qatari Constitution stipulated the need to strengthen the links between family members. Qatar had adopted a comprehensive strategy for 2011-2016, with family as the main component. Further, the Doha Institute for Family had taken every effort to promote the welfare of the family and had played a major role, through events such as the Doha International Conference of the Family, which celebrated the tenth anniversary of the International Year. Qatar believed that the family was the major promoter of sustainable development, gender equality and respect for human rights.
Andrei Dapkiunas (Belarus) noted the challenges facing the family, including an attempt to “blur the moral points of reference” it had traditionally provided, as well as to apply the “absolute of homocentrism” to redefine the role of the family in society. “Significant strides of the past decades in human liberation apparently have tempted some Governments to test the limits of the possible in the family”, he said. Believing in the sanctity of the traditional family, he called on Members States to defend family values, and to respond to the current challenges through engagement in debate, action and advocacy. Twenty years after the International Year, the choice was between seeing the foundations of the family destroyed and traditional family values sacrificed in the name of artificial social constructs or defending the natural family as well as motherhood and fatherhood as inalienable attributes of the human self.
Kairat Abdrakhmanov (Kazakhstan) commended the integration of crucial family-related issues into the outcomes of the Open-ended Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals and endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendation on family empowerment as an important tool in fighting poverty, social exclusion and inequality. His Government had adopted the comprehensive “Strategy 2050” and a corresponding new economic policy. Both were aimed at eradicating poverty and enhancing social protection. His Government would also increase its funding by $1 billion for socioeconomic development during 2015-2016; $110 million would be allocated to address problems related to inadequate schooling. The Government also had launched a programme of family development through its specialized National Commission on Gender and Family Demographic Policy, which included pertinent legislation, strategies and policies to improve the protection of children, reproductive health, as well as the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation from disease and medical problems. Kazakhstan was committed to work with the international community to protect family values and ensure more stable societies.
Valérie Bruell-Melchior (Monaco) said families were the most faithful reflection of society. Her Government assigned a particular role to the family as a unit for social development and as a basis for development strategies. The family unit must be founded on mutual respect, gender equality and the rights of the children. The International Year should be a means to generate optimal policies. Work and family life must be a priority so all members of the family could thrive. In Monaco, women received social protection benefits so they could balance their family and work lives. There were also family services available in Monaco such as assistance for housing and home care for sick children. There were further subsidies to families, such as for low-income, single-parent families or for families with disabilities. The policies also extended to older persons and their care. For example, there were retirement homes for couples and there were residences for sick with illnesses and health problems. Member States should invest in the family to combat poverty. As a basic unit, the family was important in sustainable development and its contribution to the post-2015 development agenda was crucial.
Amr Aboulatta (Egypt) said that family issues should be given due attention, in accordance with each country’s family laws, traditions and religious background. His country had observed with disappointment, the attempts by some members, during the work of the Third Committee, to introduce the notions of gender identity and sexual orientation in resolutions related to family and children, and to impose them on other Member States. Those notions were neither universally acceptable nor reflected in any international human rights instrument that had been negotiated and adopted by consensus. Such notions were counter-productive and imposing them would create a negative precedent in the work of the United Nations. Therefore, Egypt urged Member States to abandon those controversial notions and to be practical while dealing with family issues. Many families were still living in abject poverty and the United Nations’ main objective should be supporting those families, especially their vulnerable women and children members.
Marcela Ordoñez (Colombia) said today’s meeting was timely as Member States were working towards building the post-2015 development agenda. The Colombian Constitution stated that the family was a collective entity, and that helped define its rights. The Government continued to implement policies to strengthen the family as an institution. In celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the International Year, States were provided with an opportunity to strengthen the family and protect the various “confederations” of a family. The family was an agent of sustainable development and also a key protagonist in that agenda. That included the right to a job with dignity and fair enumeration, healthcare, education, mutual respect and gender equality. All of those aspects of the family were topics in the discussions of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. There was no single family model, and that had to be taken into account in the United Nations model of the family. States could not ignore the significant needs and challenges of different forms of families, such as those with single fathers, families headed by uncles and aunts, families where members lived apart from each other because of migration, or families headed by same sex couples. Recognizing those different types of families would better protect human rights. Poverty eradication was the greatest problem today, and the discussion should continue to move forward to promote sustainable, inclusive growth in which families would find a fertile environment to grow.
Rashid Bayat Mokhtari (Iran) said the observance of the twentieth anniversary of the International Year created an opportunity to focus on the role of the family as a major contributor to international development efforts. Family policy and the strengthening of such policy should be incorporated into the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals. Member States and United Nations system organizations should take into account the role of the family as a major contributor to sustainable development. Family-oriented policies had a unique role to play in helping families to fulfil their functions and benefit society. Iran considered that family was a fundamental unit of society and the main centre for the growth and improvement of the human being. In pursuing Iranian religious and cultural values and in fulfilling its international obligations, his Government was committed to continued efforts to promote the institution of the family.
Carol Hamilton (United States) said that the family continued to play a key role in society even as the nature and the role of the family adapted over time. Family played an essential role in raising children and fostering happy environments. Further, social development across the globe required strong and stable families to address poverty and work-life balance. Any and all United Nations discussions must consider all types of families, be those families headed by one mother or father, a same-sex couple or grandparents. It was essential that the United Nations recognized various forms of families, especially in the discussion on the post-2015 agenda. “In our world, we do not want to leave anyone behind,” she concluded.
Masni Eriza (Indonesia) said the family was the core element for development and for cohesion in society. His Government attached great importance to the family, and believed it formed the backbone of a strong society. Yet often the family was not included in the development process, which often led to inequality and hindered efforts for sustainable development. His Government believed that the family deserved elaboration in the post-2015 development agenda, which would be a step forward towards reducing inequality and contributing to the sustainable development goals. The Government of Indonesia had enacted national laws related to marital and family institutions, and had produced complementary policies at the municipal level. Indonesia had a national initiative for family day on 29 June which raised the importance of the family among society, and put a focus on the multisectoral services available to families. The family provided social safety nets, and empowered women to fulfil their role in development. He encouraged all countries to fulfil their objectives during the International Year.
Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil) said one significant challenge of recent times was the increased poverty and inequality within countries. Against that backdrop, the post-2015 development agenda offered the opportunity to make adjustments and correct priorities for the decades ahead. Recognizing the family’s important contribution to development, as well as the critical role played by women in families, he emphasized the success story of the national “family stipend” programme. “If we had not targeted all kinds of families — single parent, no children, same sex, no parent families — we would have not lifted 36 million Brazilians out of poverty”, he said, stressing that the programme’s success lay in the open-minded perspective it had regarding the family unit.
Iseline Larsen (Norway) said that individuals should not be discriminated on the basis of the kind of families they belonged to. The international community must continue to recognize diversity in the concept of families, including an acknowledgement of parents of the same gender. Women’s rights and gender equality were key to the post-2015 development agenda. Safeguarding women’s rights within the family was crucial. Husbands, fathers, brothers and sons played an important role in that and Norway welcomed the HeforShe campaign. “Gender equality is not just an important right, it is also smart economics,” she stressed. Investments in gender equality and increased participation of women in the workforce had enabled Norway to make strides economically. In her country’s experience, welfare schemes that enabled women to combine work and childcare were crucial to economic development. The current year also marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which her country used as the foundation for its policies on children. Children were the experts of children’s lives in every society. While families should be the safest places for children, many children were subjected to corporal punishment by their caregivers. Therefore, Norway would be launching a new action plan to intensify efforts to prevent violence against children.
Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said the family was an “intangible asset” needed by societies and States, as its contribution transcended tangible measures and defied monetary quantifications. Despite the potential of families to contribute to the social and economic well-being of societies, they were rarely the focus of major policy initiatives. The fight against violence and discrimination of women and girls and the promotion of the rights of the child could achieve greater results, if the family was taken into account in a more integrated approach. He then urged for the post-2015 development agenda to create an environment conducive for strengthening and supporting the family, and called on all development actors to promote and advance family empowerment through appropriate family-centred policies and programmes.