Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on the protection of the family and its members - 15 September 2014
In accordance with international human rights law, States are under obligation to provide the widest possible support and protection for the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society and allow it to fully assume its role in the community and provide conducive environment for the growth and well-being of its members. Several internationally agreed documents reaffirmed the central and vital role of the family in society, acknowledged its key role in fostering social development, its strong force for social cohesion and integration, and underscored its primary responsibility for the nurturing, guidance, and protection of children—that that children, for the full and harmonious development of their personality, should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.
The family unit can be sensitive to strains induced by social and economic changes. Thus, it is essential to direct particular assistance to families facing challenges and difficulties. Conditions have worsened for many families around the world owing to lack of gainful and decent employment and measures taken to balance budget deficits by reducing social expenditures. Among the most vulnerable to these strains are single-parent families headed by women, poor families with elderly members or those with disabilities, refugee and displaced families, migrant families, and families with members affected by AIDS or other terminal diseases, substance dependence, child abuse and domestic violence. In many urban environments, as family ties break down, millions of children and youth are left to their own devices and are increasingly exposed to risks such as dropping out of school, labour exploitation, sexual exploitation and sexually transmitted diseases.
To this effect, States committed to continue to enact policies and measures to provide the necessary comprehensive support for the family and its members including through designing, implementing and promoting family-friendly policies and services, such as affordable, accessible and quality care services for children and other dependents, parental and other leave schemes, campaigns to sensitize public opinion and other relevant actors on equal sharing of employment and family responsibilities between women and men, as well as formulating family-sensitive policies in the field of housing, work, health, social security and education in order to create an environment supportive of the family and developing the capacity to monitor the impact of social and economic decisions and actions on the well-being of families, on the status of women within families, and on the ability of families to meet the basic needs of their members.
Moderating the discussion was Yvette Stevens, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in Geneva. The Panelists were Aslan Khuseinovich Abashidze, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; Hiranti Wijemanne, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Zitha Mokomane, Chief Research Specialist, Human and Social Development Research Programme, Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa; Karen Bogenschneider, Rothermel Bascom Professor of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin; and Rosa Inés Floriano Carrera, Coordinator, Department of Life, Justice and Peace, Caritas, Colombia.
Mr. Abashidze said the protection of families by States and societies was an important principle in international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also defined obligations of States to provide assistance and protection to the family. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its general comment on Article 19, recognized that the definition of the family was different from State to State.
YVETTE STEVENS, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in Geneva and Panel Moderator, in her opening remarks said that the discussion today would guide the Council on the road forward in addressing the issue of protecting the family. However, this panel discussion was not about defining a family; the definition of the family in each State was different and it was up to States themselves to decide what groups were considered a family. Turning to Mr. Abashidze, Ms. Stevens asked about the perspectives of international human rights law on the obligations of States to protect the family.
ASLAN KHUSEINOVICH ABASHIDZE, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, said that the protection of families by States and societies was an important principle in international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its Article 10 also defined the obligations of States to provide assistance and protection to the family. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had not yet prepared a general comment on Article 10, but in its general comment on Article 19, the Committee recognized that the definition of the family was different from State to State and also requested States to provide information in their periodic reports about assistance accorded to all forms of families, and all members in groups considered a family. The obligations of States under Article 10 prohibited regressive measures and required States to adopt national plans for the implementation of the Covenant, which would include measures such as protection from domestic violence, sexual violence, illegal separation of children from parents, illegal forms of punishment in families and kindergarten, separation of families during migration, problem of child soldiers, protection of mothers and especially working mothers, legal age of entry into marriage, protection of the elderly, and others.
ASLAN KHUSEINOVICH ABASHIDZE, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, said that the current international treaties and the practices of treaty bodies were based on the fact that families were defined by States and also on broad provisions on protection and assistance provided to families by States. Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights covered very broad provisions related to the protection of the family and focused on some specific aspects such as the protection of mothers and children. The definition of the family was up to each State and if it broadened that definition, then its responsibilities also broadened; States were obliged to inform the Committee in their periodic report on what definition of the family was in that particular State. Press releaze