The United Nations recognizes the family as the basic unit of society. Families have been transformed to a great degree over the past 50 years as a result of changes in their structure (smaller-sized households, delayed marriage and childbearing, increased divorce rates and single parenthood), global trends in migration, the phenomenon of demographic ageing, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the impacts of globalization. These dynamic social forces have had a manifest impact on the capacities of families to perform such functions as the socialization of children and caregiving for their younger and older members.
Nearly all UN system activities touch on the family, in its various forms.
With some UN bodies, the connection is direct and obvious. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) promotes safe motherhood, reproductive health, the needs of adolescents and youth and gender equality, and addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on the family. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supports the family through such actions as promoting child survival, development and protection, gender equality, and the impact of HIV/AIDS.
Other UN bodies support the family indirectly, and powerfully, by promoting health, well-being and development. Among these are such bodies as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (UNFPII), UN Women, and so many more.
By proclaiming 1994 as the International Year of the Family, with the theme, “Family: Resources and Responsibilities in a Changing World”, the UN General Assembly emphasized family issues in the international dialogue on development. As a result, governments formulated national action plans on the family, established ministries devoted to the family and passed family-oriented legislation. In 2004, the Assembly marked the tenth anniversary of the International Year, and the Secretary-General has kept its outcome under review.
The United Nations also promotes the annual worldwide observance of the International Day of Families on 15 May of each year, aimed at increasing awareness of issues relating to the family and encouraging appropriate action.
The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
— Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights