PERHAPS not many are aware that the International Day of Families is observed annually on May 15 to celebrate the importance of families to people, societies, cultures and nations around the world.

The day was first observed in 1994, in conjunction with the United Nations (UN) designation of that year as the International Year of Families.

We have seen radical changes in the concept of family and society over the past 100 years.

Society has moved from a time when the family had clearly defined gender roles, with men as the head of the household and breadwinner while women stayed at home as the homemaker and child carer. Children, under strict parental guidance, obediently and studiously pursued their studies, wanting to become responsible, competent adults.

Families mostly lived in communities, close to work, school and access to daily necessities.

Over the years, technology made household tasks less time consuming and travel less daunting. Education shifted perspectives, became available for both boys and girls and increased job opportunities which saw greater women’s participation in employment, thereby making gender roles less stereotyped.

Travelling long distances for daily activities became no longer an obstacle. Families grew increasingly “urbanised” and lived in structures with less access to neighbourly interaction.

There has, undoubtedly, been immense progress in family life and society in terms of material success and prosperity over the years, but it has come at the cost of our social fabric straining at the seams.

Today, society is confronted by frequent instances of crime, violence, abuse of all sorts, sex-related offences, teenage pregnancies and baby-dumping.

What’s even more disconcerting is that it is our young who are mostly involved in such anti-social behaviour and conduct, causing danger and tragedy both to themselves and to the wider society as well.

We appear to have developed a schizophrenic culture. We faithfully instil in our young the need for material success and prosperity, yet we fail to teach them the values that are necessary to build good, solid moral character, strong families, safe communities and a harmonious and happy society. This contradiction and its consequences are sadly and glaringly manifest in individual lives and families.

Regrettably, the weakened family unit, the basic and essential building block of society, will lead to a fragmented society and the nation’s breakdown arising from inequalities, insecurity, impediments, injustices – real and perceived, divisions and strife.

The education system that complements and reinforces child development, which used to have a strong emphasis on building character, morality, patriotism, civic duty and social values in young lives, the goal being to develop the whole person, is largely replaced by a much greater stress on academic achievement.

The next institution that helps nurture the young into good, honest, hard-working, God-fearing individuals is religion. But, most regrettably, religion gets to be used at times by those who claim to promote and defend it to gain political mileage.

Children, as a result, are raised in dysfunctional families and troubled societies in which they do not receive the love and guidance they require. They fail to see good examples in parents, elders and leaders, and the sense of value, empathy for others, self-discipline and good character necessary for a healthy society are not instilled in them. These children, in turn, are less likely to form stable families of their own or contribute to safe and happy communities and decent societies.

Families bear the primary responsibility for the nurturing, protection and education of children and their development as responsible youth and adults; and, for instilling values of citizenship and sense of belonging in society and the nation.

Hence, the widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to families, through national policies and programmes and allocation of resources, so that they may fully assume and are enabled and empowered to fulfil their responsibilities within the community.

The 2015 observance of International Day of Families aims to promote gender equality and rights of children within families. It will also highlight prevention of family violence through fair family law frameworks.

Emphasis will be on the importance and significance of national policy and programme interventions that will help encourage and strengthen the family unit as the foundation for societies and nations, where people can truly live in harmony and prosper and progress together for the greater good of all.

Petaling Jaya

Letter, The Star
14 May 2015

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