Mr. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General
This year's International Day of Families is dedicated to the relationship between families and human rights. The theme is particularly timely, for 1998 marks both the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the mid-point of the United Nations Decade of Human Rights Education.
The ways in which families are formed, function and evolve vary greatly from country to country, as do perceptions of the family's role in society. But in any culture, the family provides the natural framework in which individuals -- especially children - receive the emotional, financial and material support indispensable to their development.
It is within the family that children learn the values that will guide them for the rest of their lives. It is within the family that they form their earliest relationships, learn to communicate with others and interact with the world around them. It is within the family that the notion of human rights becomes a
reality lived on a daily basis. If tolerance, respect and equity permeate family life, they will translate into values that shape societies, nations and the world.
The family microcosm enjoys the same rights and suffers the same wrongs as any society that exists around it. A society afflicted by instability, economic hardship or violence will impair the family's ability to fulfil its first role: that of educating, protecting and supporting its members. Enabling and aiding the family to play that role should form the focus of any social policy.
This year, as we reaffirm our commitment to human rights, let us also rededicate ourselves to making the family the first bastion of progress and democracy. Because, ultimately, the happiness of any society begins with the well being of the families that live in it.