Discuss the concept of family in UN Declarations (BSWE-004)



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was the result of the experience of the Second World War. The declaration is based on the dignity of the person, and promotes and defends the respect for peoples of various nations and for every one of their members. The Declaration of Human Rights is the authoritative basis for all subsequent Human Rights Conventions and documents. The right to marry for any man and woman of full age (adult) is defined as a fundamental human right. The family is defined as the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and state. The opening sentence of the preamble to the declaration states that these human rights are ‘inherent’ and ‘inalienable’, and stem from our human dignity. It may be noted that:

  • These human rights have human dignity as their basis.
  • They are natural laws, pre-political and apolitical.
  • They supersede national laws and no nation can enact laws that change this.
  • The family is the fundamental unit of society and is entitled to privileges and political protection.
  • This UN declaration is the source of all human rights documents, and protects the natural family based on biology.
  • They cannot be changed by political will or majority decisions.
  • There is a right to marry adult men and women, and to form a family (Article 16).
  • The formulations on the family and children’s rights are repeated in legally binding conventions such as European Court of Human Rights (ECHR 1950), and the International Covenant on economic, social and cultural rights (1966).

Family is the pre-eminent, most favorable and irreparable place for the recognition and development of a person on its way to complete dignity. It is in the family that the first steps in human development are initiated and the process of education and promotion of human being starts. An individual who does not receive this initial orientation in the family will be greatly hampered in achieving the human fullness to which he/she is called a person.


Family is the basis of society Respect of human rights is necessary for human development of persons in the society. These human development values include life itself, health, knowledge, work, the community, religion and culture. Family is the smallest community of persons. The values essential to the family can only be achieved when a man and woman give themselves to one another totally in marriage, accept a community of love and life, are willing to fully accept the gift of new life in procreation and accept the responsibility of educating the offspring.

Parents give the child a home in which the child can grow and develop. All the rights that are necessary by nature for the development of the person in his/her wholeness become real in the family in the most effective way. The family, by its very nature, is a subject of rights, the foundational element of human society, and the most necessary force in the full development of the human society, and the most necessary force in the full development of the human person. The importance of the family's social meditation is undeniable. Family is the 'sanctuary of life '. It is more than any other human reality, a place where an individual can exist for himself/herself through the gift of self.

If the family is protected and privileged by human rights, they are valid in all places and at all times. The survival of society depend on the strong institutions of marriage and family. When the traditional family structure disappears more and more from society, people will no longer know what they are talking about. Therefore the family should not in any way lose its privileged political support. If it loses it, society will be eroded from within. The historical concept of family should not be allowed to disappear. If it does, it would be difficult to sustain this existing concept for longer.

There are attempts to redefine the concept of family at national and international levels. There are also initiatives in the legal juridical as well as parliamentary arena. Such efforts also draw power from public debate. It must be understood that political majorities cannot change human rights. They are inalienable and inherent. These rights belong to the human being because of his/her dignity and not because some political body granted them.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989

The preamble to the convention states:
  • Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.
  • Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.

As per the UN Convention, children have the right to know and live with their biological parents. If this is not possible, they have a right to adoptive parents who resemble the natural parents to the extent possible, that is, a mother and father. Further, the best interest of the child shall govern all issues relating to children's rights, and not the interest of adults. 

Both the UN Convention on the rights of the child and the UN declaration of human rights speak of the importance of the family. The family consists of mother, father and children. It is a natural institution in all societies. The society is obliged to support it because it uniquely brings forth and rears children. Mother and children have a right to special political support. The pregnant as well as the nursing mother is vulnerable, yet provides the most important work in any society. The family is politically relevant because it is here that the humans are born and raised. Parents do the key work for society by bringing up and educating children to be responsible citizens. No once can replace the parents. That is why we say that the family is the basic cell of the society.  

Article 3 of the convention states that 'the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.' This legally binding Convention leaves n doubt about the right of the child to his/her parent, not only to know them but also to be raised by them. This is what is meant by the 'best interest of the child.' It also implies that it is an injustice contravening international law, to conceive a child with the intention of raising it alone. There are instances where hundreds of thousands are born out of wedlock, co-habitation, and by sex workers. It will not be in the 'best interest' of the child for HIV infected to go for a child when the health of the parents themselves are already in danger. Similarly how can the 'best interest of the child' be protected when some countries allow people living in same sex relationship to adopt children.

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