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.