On Monday, March 16, as New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy imposed a curfew banning non-essential travel in his state between the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., he explained, “We want everybody to be home, not out.” Home is where people around the world are headed on an unprecedented scale as the COVID-19 crisis precipitates travel restrictions, work at home, and school closures. In a dramatic and unexpected way, the human race is being presented with a stark reminder of the power of family, a reality that seems to have been widely forgotten or ignored except on the continent that has been most plagued by challenges to human existence.
“In Africa,” declared the Regional Conference on the Family held in Benin during the 10th anniversary of the International Year of the Family, “the centrality, uniqueness and indispensability of the family in society is unquestionable. For generations, the family has been a source of strength for guidance and support, thus providing members with a wide circle of relatives on whom they can fall back. In times of crisis, unemployment, sickness, poverty, old age, and bereavement, most people rely on the family as the main source of material, social and emotional support and social security. Therefore, the African family network is the prime mechanism for coping with social, economic and political adversity in the continent.”
If there is truth to the popular adage that “Adversity introduces a man to himself,” then surely it is also the case that adversity can introduce society to itself. As the drafters of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights undertook their task, having themselves just come through a worldwide tragedy, they clearly saw—and emphasized—the timeless truth of society’s foundational structure: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
As the crisis now threatening the world sends so many of us home, it provides an unprecedented opportunity to appreciate what a US representative once told the UN General Assembly: “Family is a universal and irreplaceable community, rooted in human nature and the basis for all societies at all times. As the cradle of life and love for each new generation, the family is the primary source of personal identity, self-esteem, and support for children. It is also the first and foremost school of life, uniquely suited to teach children integrity, character, morals, responsibility, service, and wisdom…. The state’s foremost obligation… is to respect, defend, and protect the family as an institution.” Never has the family been more important, and never has it needed protecting and strengthening as it does now.