UN Event Highlights Challenges, Hopes for Families in Migration and Urbanization

By | April 13, 2018

NEW YORK, April 13 (C-Fam) As the United Nations Commission on Population and Development turns its focus to migration and urbanization, a high-level event this week turned the spotlight to the way family integrity—or breakdown—affects and is affected by pervasive population trends.

The search for new opportunities and safety from threats drive individuals and families to migrate within and between countries and from rural to urban destinations. But these migrations also pose significant threats to families who face separation, environmental and economic stresses, and legal challenges as they seek to provide the best possible life for their loved ones.

The discussion was co-sponsored by the C-Fam [publisher of the Friday Fax] and the Group of Friends of the Family, which includes 25 UN member states, with support from Civil Society for the Family, a coalition of nearly 180 organizations.

Ambassadors from Belarus and Egypt presided, representing the Group of Friends.

David Anthony spoke on behalf of UNICEF, calling the family the “first frontier” of protection for children. Anthony noted that although migration is often driven by the desire for increased prosperity or asylum from threats, it often separates family members, and “when the family is fractured or dislocated, childhood comes under threat.”  Like other panelists, he noted that young people traveling alone are often victimized by human traffickers and subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

E. Scott Lloyd of the U.S. Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR) complemented those of UNICEF, and reported on the way the U.S. is providing health care and education to unaccompanied minors. Some children in U.S. custody are receiving the first formal education in their lifetime. Lloyd has recently come under political attack for defending the dignity of the unborn children of pregnant migrant minors in addition to that of their mothers.

For some children, their migratory status is a reflection of the lack of a family—Lloyd described how the ORR looks for families to sponsor these children, with the hope of establishing them within a permanent family.

On the subject of urbanization, Princeton professor Timothy J. Nelson spoke about the problem of fatherlessness in the context of unwed births, and encouraged policies that support “fathers who want to be involved.” Moderator Susan Yoshihara, Senior Vice President for Research at C-Fam, echoed his call for approaches that “honor men as fathers and not just paychecks” and to recognize the dignity of fathers in the context of the family.

Timothy Herrmann of the Holy See discussed Pope Francis’ concern for migrants and emphasized the primary “right to stay—the right of persons to not be forced from their homes –and noted that in Church teaching, the migrant is always associated with family, in the context of the need to provide for them.

C-Fam Director of Legal Studies Stefano Gennarini lamented the fact that the family has become a controversial topic at the UN, with activist groups promoting the “equivalence of a variety of arrangements,” while emphasizing that “it was not always so.” Gennarini noted that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was written, there was a clearer understanding of what family meant.  “If the UDHR is not a formal definition of the family,” said Gennarini, “it’s at least a functional definition” in the context of policies regarding housing and migration.