Role of families in human development

S. M. Rayhanul Islam | Published: April 05, 2018 21:03:10 | Updated: April 05, 2018 21:20:31

Family is the fundamental unit of human society. It provides all its members with security, identity and values, regardless of age. When a member of the family feels insecure or unsafe, he or she turns to his or her family for help. A family is the first school from which a child learns about the basic values of life. It gets lessons in good manners in its family. The morals and values nurtured in the family become his or her guiding force. Families are at the core of human development. Among the natural and fundamental bases of society, families are central to man's quest for dignity, peace and justice. Moreover, as a basic economic unit in every society, families are keys to global efforts to eliminate poverty and bring about prosperity.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family, the book 'Family Futures' has been published by Tudor Rose, in collaboration with the United Nations. This timely publication emerges as a valuable resource for those eager to address the challenges and support related to families and societies of today as well as tomorrow. By focusing on different levels of society, particularly the experiences and livelihoods of local communities in vulnerable human habitats, the book projects the benefits of experience in improving the lives of families worldwide, and shared commitment to the importance of families as both agents and beneficiaries of sustainable development, and their particular role in advancing social integration and inter-generational solidarity.

Contributed by 60 authors, the book contains examples of family programmes in 74 separate countries. It brings together the experiences, the best practices, the observations and analyses of UN agencies, government entities, academics and selected civil society organisations, and promotes family-friendliness around the world. The book is divided into three major parts: 1) Advancing social integration and inter-generational solidarity, 2) Confronting family poverty, and 3) Ensuring work-family balance.

Throughout their lives, the majority of people in all cultures maintain close relationships with members of their families. Many studies have shown the strength of families as functioning social support units with frequent and regular inter-generational contact and assistance. It is common for grandparents, aunts and uncles to take over parenting duties in cases where the children's parents are not available. In most cases, extended families contribute towards the raising of children, either on a seasonal basis or full-time. This remains true even as the definition of 'family' rapidly expands around the globe. Many factors influence this change, including growing numbers of blended and cohabiting families, unmarried couples, single heads of households and childless couples, as well as changing views on 'same-sex marriage'. Today it's not unusual for families to include great grandparents and great aunts and uncles, because people are living longer. Reliance on grandparents and other relatives to raise children has increased dramatically around the world. This happens, for example, in Africa because of HIV/AIDS, in the United States due to substance abuse, and in parts of Asia where distant but better job prospects cause parents to leave their children behind.

The family is a social unit and family breakdowns have serious impacts and consequences on each member of that unit. This basic fact is the reason why poverty must be treated as a family issue. Poverty has manifold corrosive effects on a family's health, developmental stages and mental capacities and in the physical growth of children due to poor food, nutrition, hygiene and housing. Family poverty often leads to children being involved in household work and outside employment so as to supplement the family's income; looking after siblings; looking after cattle; and doing heavy chores because the mother has to go out to work in fields, the construction industry or in other such semi-skilled or unskilled areas. This 'need' often causes poor academic performance or drop-out, and participation in school life is inhibited as the children juggle home chores and studies. Several experimental initiatives took place over a decade, trying to identify possible and probable reasons for poverty in the family. Among the major findings was that of lack of stability in marriage and family due to abuse, and different forms of violence at home involving husbands and wives and parents and children, resulting in the collapse of families. 

To establish a positive vision for the future families, the authors have coined the phrase 'Family: the missing link in human development'. Contrary to undertakings which propound the theory that only the community and larger institutions are participants in the development process, they believe in: i) investment in human capital and that the family is the first experience of one's humanity; ii) that the family is the first and indispensable line of social protection; and iii) that the family is the foundation from which poverty can be effectively minimised and eliminated. These elements, the authors argue, are profoundly essential to human development which is sustainable and effective, and need to be incorporated in any developmental process.

Families are changing across the world with evolving norms, educational opportunities and labour markets. Often both parents work because the family has to make ends meet, but also to pursue individual aspirations and careers. Increasingly, women are better educated and female employment rates are rising. However, the domestic workload of women remains virtually unchanged. Achieving a good balance in 'work and family life', thus, is the key for families to live the life they aspire to. It is especially important for children that their parents have enough time to nurture and educate them. In addition to parenting and household tasks, people also need time to pursue their interests and hobbies, learn, play and recharge their batteries. It is also important to stress that every family is different and every family has a different approach to work-life balance. But as numerous studies and real life examples show, both on the level of individuals (children and families) and on broader levels (workforce, macroeconomic level), when families are empowered to make their own choices and are supported in achieving work-life balance, the investment really pays off for the family, for society and the economy as a whole.

The writer is an independent researcher.

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