Stable family key to a child’s well-being

As social beings, a family bond is the fundamental requirement of humans.

Traditionally defined, a family is the smallest unit in the society which comprises the parents and their children. On a broader scale, it encompasses the family tree — parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, kith and kin.

Familial bonds need not be that of blood alone: as humans, we are bestowed with the unique quality where even a total stranger is readily accepted into the family mould, extending the definition to a broader group of people who share similar beliefs to form a family.

Whatever may be the definitions, the primary motive of a family is to provide and care for the children, taking into consideration their needs and making available excellent resources.

Emphasising the importance of this fundamental social need, in 1993, UN declared May 15 to be observed globally as International Day of Families. Since 1994, this day has been celebrated all over the world across different cultures and communities in their unique way.

This observance aims to spread the awareness of the importance of a family and to address various issues related to families — their health, safety, welfare, or to promote social progress and better standards of life for families.

Since 2001, a thematic approach focuses on one issue related to families around the world. The theme for 2018 is ‘Families and Inclusive Societies’ which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.

The United Nations Statistics Division collects and compiles all facts and figures which provides the required official data of families, and records them in its Demographic Year Book.

The World Family Map (WFM) is an annual report relea-
sed by a body of global experts who observe, analyse and record the changing family trends and their impacts. The reports indicate that a common factor across regions and demographics is the diminishing number of marriages. In the last four decades, cohabitation and single parenthood are steadily on the rise, and the concept of family is undergoing a sea change.

WFM indicators show that each country or region faces ongoing challenges and each of them exhibits unique strengths to overcome them, which stand to be exemplary.

Despite declining marriage rates, two-parent families (by marriage) and living with extended families are higher in Asia and West Asia; there is a sharp increase in cohabitation (living together without marriage) and single parenting in the Americas, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania regions. These regions are also witnessing an escalating number of non-marital childbearing.

The importance of marriage and child welfare is a much-debated concept among experts. A growing consensus indicates that family and living arrangements directly impact the psycho-social development of children. A 2017 WFM report shows that children are more likely to thrive in stable families, while they show adverse behavioural patterns in unstable ones.

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin observes, “Family instability may increase children’s behavioural and emotional problems. Simply put, some children seem to have difficulty adjusting to a series of parents and parents’ partners moving in and out of their home.”

The study indicated that children born to married parents or living with parents and extended family benefit from the extensive resources. Marriage is more stable than cohabitation, even when couples have children together, and offers children a distinct advantage compared with being born outside of a union. Thus, retreat from marriage seems to decrease family stability for children in a wide variety of social contexts.

The study across 68 countries also shows that a rise in the number of births to cohabiting couples is linked to a later increase in the percentage of children living apart from at least one of their biological parents.

In India, the family structure in conjunction with marriage is held on a pedestal from times immemorial and is considered a sacred institution. With such a high accord placed on familial bonds, it is evident that marriage is promoted as an essential and mandatory event in people’s life for the well-being of not just the individuals or children but also the society at large.

Global influences and changing socioeconomic conditions have modified family structure. Whatever the dynamics, Michael J Fox’s quote remains apt: “Family is not an important thing… It is everything.” Family is that unit where we share a space of unconditional love, no matter what our journey is, and always cherish it the most.

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Stable family key to a child’s well-being

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