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Chapter V: The family, its roles, rights, composition and structure - A. Diversity of family structure and composition

Basis for action

5.1. While various forms of the family exist in different social, cultural, legal and political systems, the family is the basic unit of society and as such is entitled to receive comprehensive protection and support. The process of rapid demographic and socio-economic change throughout the world has influenced patterns of family formation and family life, generating considerable change in family composition and structure. Traditional notions of gender-based division of parental and domestic functions and participation in the paid labour force do not reflect current realities and aspirations, as more and more women in all parts of the world take up paid employment outside the home. At the same time, widespread migration, forced shifts of population caused by violent conflicts and wars, urbanization, poverty, natural disasters and other causes of displacement have placed greater strains on the family, since assistance from extended family support networks is often no longer available. Parents are often more dependent on assistance from third parties than they used tobe in order to reconcile work and family responsibilities. This is particularly the case when policies and programmes that affect the family ignore the existing diversity of family forms, or are insufficiently sensitive to the needs and rights of women and children.


5.2. The objectives are:

  1. To develop policies and laws that better support the family, contribute to its stability and take into account its plurality of forms, particularly the growing number of single-parent households;
  2. To establish social security measures that address the social, cultural and economic factors behind the increasing costs of child-rearing;
  3. To promote equality of opportunity for family members, especially the rights of women and children in the family.


5.3. Governments, in cooperation with employers, should provide and promote means to facilitate compatibility between labour force participation and parental responsibilities, especially forsingle-parent households with young children. Such means could include health insurance and social security, day- care centres and facilities for breast-feeding mothers within the work premises, kindergartens, part-time jobs, paid parental leave, paid maternity leave, flexible work schedules, and reproductive and child health services.

5.4. When formulating socio-economic development policies, special consideration should be given to increasing the earning power of all adult members of economically deprived families, including the elderly and women who work in the home, and to enabling children tobe educated rather than compelled to work. Particular attention should be paid to needy single parents, especially those who are responsible wholly or in part for the support of children and other dependants, through ensuring payment of at least minimum wages and allowances, credit, education, funding for women's self-help groups and stronger legal enforcement of male parental financialresponsibilities.

5.5. Governments should take effective action to eliminate all forms of coercion and discrimination in policies and practices. Measures should be adopted and enforced to eliminate child marriages and female genital mutilation. Assistance should beprovided to persons with disabilities in the exercise of their family and reproductive rights and responsibilities.

5.6. Governments should maintain and further develop mechanisms to document changes and undertake studies on family composition and structure, especially on the prevalence of one-person households, and single-parent and multigenerational families.


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