United Nations event in Ipswich
The local United Nations Association group organises an annual inter-faith Celebration of Human Rights in Ipswich. This year the event was on the 10 December and the theme was ‘The Family’, based on Article 16:3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” This was my contribution (MN).
What do we mean by “the family”? I imagine that when the UN declaration was drafted immediately after the Second World War, it might have been generally assumed that a family consisted of two heterosexual parents, some children, and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. British families have been described as having 2.4 children, because that was supposed to be the average number of children in nuclear families. Many families aren’t like this.
A few days ago, research from The Centre for the Modern Family was released. They’d interviewed 3,000 people. Fewer than a fifth of them thought they were part of a traditional family. Eight in ten said their families didn’t conform to the stereotype of two married parents with two or more children. The report indicates that family structures have become more diverse. A quarter of couples are childless and a fifth of the population lives alone, and more of us are likely to view families with single parents, same-sex parents or unmarried parents as “proper” families. Some families include people who aren’t related to one another, such as step-families or adopted families.
So ideas about what is “natural and fundamental” have changed, though not everyone will like this. Some families are treated more favourably than others by the state, depending on where they live. We’re fortunate to live in a developed country with welfare benefits and resources to care for children who don’t have families, though the system is far from perfect. In many developing countries, things are different. Many children orphaned by AIDS in Africa, for example, are raised by ageing grandparents or older siblings, and in many parts of the world, groups of orphans could be described as families, since they care for each other without parents.
Protecting a family may not necessarily be the best way to protect the members of a family. Most child abuse occurs within families, perpetrated by older relatives or close family friends, and domestic violence is far too common. Families can be dangerous and dysfunctional, and even if they aren’t, you may not like your relatives very much. Some are best kept for weddings and funerals and otherwise ignored, and some are tolerated with ambivalence. In Dodie Smith’s play ‘Dear Octopus’, a family is defined as “That dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our innermost hearts never quite wish to.” I doubt that she was aware that octopus mothers are devoted mothers who sacrifice themselves to ensure the survival of their offspring.
So, families can be useful, in that they provide a convenient way to identify social and economic units, but do they all deserve protection? I wonder if Article 16 should be revised.
The UN Declaration doesn’t cover two most fundamental human needs, besides food, shelter, freedom from want and persecution, and all the other things listed in the articles. Humans need love, if they are to thrive and grow into useful members of society, and they need laughter. Families where love and laughter are a normal part of day to day life are the best sort of families. The UN can’t do anything about love and laughter, but maybe it might encourage a more pragmatic attitude towards families among political and religious leaders, recognising that there are many that don’t conform to old stereotypes. If a family is good for the people in it, it’s good for all of us.
The event was attended by the Mayor of Ipswich, Councillor John Le Grys, and the Mayoress.
The welcome was from Bishop Paulo Pereira of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the closing words were from Charles Croydon from the United Nations Association, Ipswich and District branch.
The other speakers were a Hindu follower of Sri Chinmoy, someone from the Lucis Trust, a Seventh-Day Adventist, a Soka Gakkai Buddhist, a Pagan, a Bahá’í, a Unitarian Christian, a member of the local Amnesty group and Maureen Reynel (Chair of FIND).
Music was by the Pentreath family string trio and Filipe Esteves on the piano.
There was a collection of household items for FIND (Families in Need), to be distributed in the local area.
One of our hosts (the Mormons) gave me a copy of ‘A Proclamation to the World‘ on the family. No comment!