Parents of every race, religion, culture and nationality in all parts of the world are the primary caregivers and teachers of their children, preparing them for a happy, fulfilling and productive life. Parents are the anchors of the family and the foundation of our communities and societies.
Parents and children's rights
The principles outlined in the international human rights framework apply both to children and adults. Children are mentioned explicitly in many of the human rights instruments; standards are specifically modified, or adapted, where the needs and concerns surrounding a right are distinct for children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child brings together the children’s human rights articulated in other international instruments. This Convention articulates the rights more completely and provides a set of guiding principles that fundamentally shapes the way in which we view children.
All children have the same rights. All rights are interconnected and of equal importance. The Convention stresses these principles and refers to the responsibility of children to respect the rights of others, especially their parents. By the same token, children's understanding of the issues raised in the Convention will vary depending on the age of the child. Helping children to understand their rights does not mean parents should push them to make choices with consequences they are too young to handle.
The Convention expressly recognizes that parents have the most important role in the bringing up children. The text encourages parents to deal with rights issues with their children "in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child" (article 5). Parents, who are intuitively aware of their child's level of development, will do this naturally. The issues they discuss, the way in which they answer questions, or the discipline methods they use will differ depending on whether the child is 3, 9 or 16 years of age.
Traditionally in many societies, fathers have been moral teachers, disciplinarians and breadwinners. In many countries, there is now an increased emphasis on the father’s role as a co-parent, fully engaged in the emotional and practical day-to-day aspects of raising children. Recent research has affirmed the positive impact of active involvement by fathers in the development of their children.
Yet challenges persist for fathers -- and for society and social policy. Too many men have difficulty assuming the responsibilities of fatherhood, often with damaging consequences to families, and inevitably, society at large. Some fathers inflict domestic violence or even sexual abuse, devastating families and creating profound physical and emotional scars in children. Others abandon their families outright and fail to provide support. Researchers continue to explore how the presence or absence of fathers can affect children, in areas such as school achievement and crime.
At the international level, migration forces many fathers to often face separation from their families. Migrant fathers may encounter a starkly different concept of fatherhood in their country of destination than what they knew in their home country -- and may even be rejected by their children as they grow up in a new society.
The HIV/AIDS crisis challenges fathers worldwide as it demonstrates the critical importance of sexual responsibility for fathers and all men. The crisis also challenges men to become father figures to children who have been left orphaned by the disease.
These challenges all highlight the deep and universal need for positive father figures in families. As our understanding of fatherhood grows, there is an opportunity for men to re-envision imaginatively what it means to be a father and to see opportunities to make a difference in communities.
Mothers play a critical role in the family, which is a powerful force for social cohesion and integration. The mother-child relationship is vital for the healthy development of children. And mothers are not only caregivers; they are also breadwinners for their families. Yet women continue to face major -- and even life-threatening -- challenges in motherhood.
Childbirth, which should be a cause for celebration, is a grave health risk for too many women in developing countries. Improving maternal health is the Millennium Development Goal on which the least progress has been made. A woman in a least-developed country is 300 times more likely to die in childbirth, or from pregnancy-related complications, than a woman in a developed country. We must make pregnancy and childbirth safer by enabling health systems to provide family planning, skilled attendants at birth and emergency obstetric care.
Violence against women, many of whom are mothers, remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations of our time. It has far-reaching consequences -- endangering the lives of women and girls, harming their families and communities, and damaging the very fabric of societies. Ending and preventing violence against women should be a key priority for all countries.
We must also ensure universal access to education. The benefits of educating women and girls accrue not only to individual families, but to whole countries, unlocking the potential of women to contribute to broader development efforts. Statistics also show that educated mothers are much more likely to keep their children in school, meaning that the benefits of education transcend generations.
As we strive to support mothers in their caregiving work, we should develop and expand family-friendly policies and services, such as childcare centres that would reduce some of the workload placed on women. Women and men, alike, need stronger public support to share equally in work and family responsibilities. Families built on the recognition of equality between women and men will contribute to more stable and productive societies.