Although the family is generally perceived as precious in society, many are still not able to enjoy this privilege. Purna Sen discusses the contemporary challenges to a right to family life.
How precious it is to be nurtured by a loving family, to be fed, clothed, loved and to have support from family members when times are hard. It is re-assuring to know that they will be loyal, your friendliest critics and stalwart advocates.
The family has been a place of comfort, a haven against a sometimes harsh world that can be wearing or worse. The family is an institution that can create healthy and happy individuals and reinforce their successful functioning in the world beyond. It is fundamental to how we live, value and see ourselves.
Those who find themselves in loving and nourishing families help to support our view of it as a mutually reinforcing and special unit in society, one which should not therefore be subject to public scrutiny or interference.
But, for too many people their family life does not fit this ideal. We now have increasing recognition of the underbelly of family life – where harm is done to its members. Estimates suggest that: one in six children experience sexual abuse before the age of 16, 24.5 per cent of 18–24 year olds report one or more experiences of physical violence, sexual or emotional abuse and neglect by a parent or guardian during their childhood; and that domestic violence will affect 1 in 4 women in their lifetime.
Victims of violence, abuse and neglect in the family are torn between wanting their abuse to end and criticising the people who are supposed to love them. It is a terrible dilemma for many and strengthened by a ubiquitous ideology of privacy and privilege of the family unit.
We would be well advised to be much more equivocal in our adoration of the family and cautious about protecting it – the need to protect and nurture every individual must be the priority. The haven can sometimes be hell.
Purna Sen is Deputy Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, Chair of the board of the Kaleidoscope Trust and an Advisor to Justice for Gay Africans. She has served as Head of Human Rights for the Commonwealth Secretariat and as Director for the Asia-Pacific Programme at Amnesty International.