New York

15 May 2008

Secretary-General's message on the International Day of Families

The theme for this year's International Day of Families, “Fathers and Families: Responsibilities and Challenges”, focuses on the important role fathers play in the lives of families and children around the world.

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. On this International Day of Families, I call on fathers to honour their families. I call on families to honour fathers for their important contributions to family life. And I call on all of us to commit ourselves to building a social environment that encourages and sustains a positive vision of fatherhood.