May 14 2004
Families and their children are more vulnerable than ever
The Tenth Anniversary of the International Year of the Family
14/05/2004 - Ten years after the United Nations proclaimed 1994 as the International Year of the Family, families around the globe remain vulnerable, while millions of children are orphaned and abandoned. SOS Children's Villages both supports families at risk of abandoning their children, and provides long-term family-based care for children who can no longer live with their biological families.
Wars, natural disasters, poverty and various economic and societal pressures are creating more vulnerable families worldwide. Families unable to cope are disintegrating, which in turn, often results in child abandonment, neglect and abuse. Millions of other children have lost their parents forever for the above-mentioned reasons. By 2010, an estimated 106 million children will be orphaned, of which 25 million will have lost one or both parents to AIDS (UNICEF).
SOS Children's Villages provides worldwide humanitarian aid for children and their families through two strategies: firstly by offering personal support to socially disadvantaged families to enable them to continue caring for their children, and secondly, by providing long-term care in a family environment for children, who can no longer live with their biological families.
Already in 1994, SOS Children's Villages actively contributed to the International Year of the Family by supporting 9,000 families in 68 countries, and by providing care for an additional 1,200 children at the organisation's newly-built children's villages. In both of the organisation's main strategies, giving children the chance of growing up in a family is considered the key to a child's development.
The notion of families has changed over the years, with a higher number of single-parent headed households, or AIDS increasing the numbers of families headed by older siblings or grandparents. But regardless of the set-up, it is the firm conviction of SOS Children's Villages that a child is best cared for in a family environment.
"Well-functioning families, with the necessary resources to provide for their children, is a prerequisite for building sustainable societies," said Richard Pichler, Secretary-General of SOS Children's Villages. "In our own interest, we must ensure that families are able to provide their children with a safe home, good health and education, as well as a belief in their own individual abilities."
The needs of families and their children are many and are dependant on culture and circumstances. Single-mother headed households account for 50% of Ecuadorian and 25% of Bolivian families receiving support from an SOS Social Centre. In Malawi, some 400,000 children under 15-years are orphaned due to AIDS, of which the majority live in impoverished sibling-, grandparent- or widow-headed households.
To help families become self-sustaining, SOS Children's Villages always adjusts its family-outreach programmes to the situations of the individual families. Among others, the organisation offers educational and vocational training services for children and adults, AIDS counselling, as well as day-care services for children and assistance for the setting up of micro-enterprises.
"In many countries, traditional forms of childcare are overburdened by the overwhelming number of children who are at risk of losing the right to a loving home," added Pichler. "More effort is needed both to enable families to provide better care for their children, as well as alternatives for children who fall outside of the safety network of their biological families."
For children who cannot remain with their families due to the death or illness of the parents or for reasons of abuse and neglect, adequate care alternatives must be provided such as adoption, foster care or other different forms of family-based care, such as that provided by an SOS Children's Village. If possible, contact must be maintained with the biological family, and biological siblings should be given the opportunity of growing up together.