By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Think about your most important memories. Who figures in them? Your family, most likely.
So what makes a family? The United Nations defines family in residential terms: a household of people related by blood, marriage or adoption, making common provisions for food, shelter and other essentials of survival.
The U.N. designated 1994 as the Year of the Family, and since 1996, it has recognized the International Day of Families, celebrated annually on May 15. This year’s theme is “Advancing Social Integration and Intergenerational Solidarity.” In other words, bringing many kinds of societies and different generations together, including vulnerable groups, so they have a voice in political, social, cultural and economic decisions.
By nature, families make long-term commitments. Parents care for children and, in turn, adult children support ill and elderly parents. Especially in developing countries, families share resources across generations. Families also decide together about major purchases, work division and savings.
What Households Look Like
Marriage, childbearing, adoption, death, migration and divorce directly affect households. Income and other socioeconomic variables affect fertility rates and — over time — the number of children. Other factors such as delayed marriage, reduction in child mortality rates and housing shortages can lead to an increase the number of adult children living at home.
Large households with many children correlate with low personal income and, on a national basis, high fertility rates correlate with low gross national product (GNP).
In the countries we serve, three-fourths of households include two spouses, although in Sub-Saharan Africa, one-third of families have a single parent or a single grandparent as head of household. In Kenya, where elderly widows often raise grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, more than a third of households are female-headed.
Effects of Migration
Youth migration poses another challenge to family structures. In Africa, rural poverty and youth unemployment is reaching crisis proportions, affecting communities we serve in Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.
In 1950, only 11 percent of Africans lived in cities, but by 1996, nearly a third had migrated from rural areas in search of jobs, social mobility and other opportunities. The U.N. projects that half of all Africans will live in urban areas by 2025. Family ties still survive because city dwellers often send money home, but distance and poverty can shred such bonds.
As we acknowledge the fragility of families, we also celebrate their inherent strengths — loyalty, support and shared history. We invite you to invest in training for young adults and single mothers through a gift to our Family Livelihood fund.