Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali
The International Day of Families is being observed today, 15 May, for the
third year. The setting aside of one day every year for this observance is an important
means of maintaining the momentum and interest created by the International Year of the
Family (1994) and focusing on policies to address different problems and concerns of the
contemporary family all over the world.
This 15 May, in the year that is being observed as the International Year for the
Eradication of Poverty, and on the eve of the second United Nations Conference on Human
Settlements (Habitat II) to be held in June at Istanbul, it is most fitting that the
featured theme for the International Day of Families is "Families -- victims of
poverty and homelessness".
The family, as the most living social institution that mediates between the individual and
society at large, has had to adapt to both rapid and far- reaching global change affecting
not only the material condition of humankind, but also values and beliefs. What the family
can offer its members in economic, social and spiritual support is changing, and what
members expect from the family also is changing. Traditionally, families have been
important in providing an economic base and protection against extreme want by pooling
resources and engaging in productive activities, as well as by sheltering and caring for
weaker or dependent members. These functions continue to be important and are often
enriched when there is material progress in the wider community.
The family has been and continues to be a bulwark against poverty. But poverty can be
corrosive, affecting family solidarity and family relations. In extreme situations,
poverty contributes to family dysfunction or disintegration. Other contemporary forces
also place strains on families. These include changes in population structure, widespread
migration of people, especially youth in search of work and economic opportunities, and
mass displacement of population because of war or civil strife. All of these impair an
often already precarious access to adequate shelter and basic amenities.
Observance of the International Day of Families provides governments and civil society at
large with an opportunity to examine their respective actions; to consider what measures
might promote the adaptation of families to new conditions; and to make it possible for
families to provide the support
their members need and expect.