Year of International Human Rights

Webster University's Year of International Human Rights began in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008. Since then, the YIHR has expanded to include a wide range of programming that includes guest lectures, film series, art performances and exhibits, common reading programs, and more. The YIHR culminates with the Annual Human Rights Conference, hosted at Webster's St. Louis, Missouri campus.

2014/2015: Family Rights

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the family as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society,” and the family is therefore entitled to protection by society and the state. The human rights of the family include a wide range of basic entitlements, including: the right to marry and found a family, equal gender rights within the family, the right to give full and free consent to marriage, the right to family planning, the rights of children to parental care, and the right to family reunification in times of crisis. Because human rights and universal and inalienable, these rights are not prescriptive; families come in all shapes and sizes, and human rights standards do not require families to conform to traditional roles in order to qualify for protection and respect.

Family rights gain salience in different ways around the world, depending on the issues and challenges prevalent in each society. In the United States and Europe, for instance, advocacy related to the rights of the family often intersect with LGBTQ rights – including the rights to gay marriage and adoption. In other parts of the world, issues such as forced marriage and access to family planning are at the forefront of human rights debates. Although advocacy efforts are varied and diverse, the rights of the family are essential for promoting human dignity and protecting the bonds of family love.

Internet Resources on Family Rights

I. The United Nations and Family Rights 

Many thanks to Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) for supplying this information. To learn more about international and regional protections – as well as to access a variety of educational resources on family rights – please visit HREA’s site at 

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) – Article 16
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. As a resolution, it is not itself formally legally binding despite common assumptions to the contrary. However, it did establish important principles and values which were later elaborated in legally binding UN treaties. Moreover, a number of its provisions have become part of customary international law. Article 16 upholds family as the natural and fundamental unit in society. It establishes the right of men and women to marry and found a family; their equal rights as to the marriage, and that consent to marriage should be freely given. 

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) – Article 10
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) was adopted by the General Assembly in December 1966 and entered into force in 1976. It elaborates the principles laid out in UDHR and is legally binding on all states who have signed and ratified its provisions. Article 10 reiterates some basic rights concerning family life and then goes on to establish further rights of pregnant mothers to maternity leave and social security. 

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) – Article 23
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) elaborates the principles laid out in UDHR and is legally binding on all states who have signed and ratified its provisions. Article 23 guarantees the right to a family:

1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
2. The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.
3. No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
4. States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children. 

Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with special reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally (1986)
This document provides important guidelines for the fostering and adoption, including inter-country adoptions of children who lack appropriate parental care. 

Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (1962)
This treaty reiterates the right to full consent and also requires states to establish a minimum age for marriage. 

Recommendation on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (1965)

UN population and development documents including the 1994 Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, the 1968 Tehran Declaration, 1985 Fourth World Conference in Beijing, all contain provisions regarding the rights of individuals to family planning.

Finally, UN treaties relating to specific categories of persons can also be used to protect the right to family. 

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) – Article 12
The UN Refugee Conventions includes guidelines and principles established under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees strengthen provisions regarding refugee rights to family. 

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1979) – Articles 9, 16
CEDAW is a very relevant treaty when it comes to discrimination and unequal treatment of women vis-a-vis their status in the family and includes provisions on marriage and nationality (article 9), equality and consent, rights and responsibilities within marriage, family planning, guardianship and adoption, women's right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation, ownership and property, minimum age for marriage, and compulsory registration of marriages (article 16). 

Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) – Articles 9, 10, 20, 21, 22
The Children's Convention (CRC) address the separation from parents (article 9), family reunification (article 10 and 22) and measures for children lacking parental care (article 20, 21). 

International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families (1990) – Articles 4, 44, 45, 50
The most recent of the main UN human rights treaties entered into force on 1 July 2003. The convention explicitly refers to migrant workers and "members of their family", which are defined as "persons married to migrant workers or having with them a relationship that, according to applicable law, produces effects equivalent to marriage, as well as their dependent children and other dependent persons who are recognized as members of the family by applicable legislation or applicable bilateral or multilateral agreements between the States concerned" (article 4). The treaty recognizes that "the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State, shall take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of the unity of the families of migrant workers". States are also expected to facilitate family reunification and the treaty stipulates that states "shall favorably consider granting equal treatment, as set forth in paragraph 2 of the present article, to other family members of migrant workers" (article 44). Members of the families of migrant workers shall enjoy equality of treatment with nationals with regard to access to education, social and health services and participation in cultural life. States also have to facilitate integration of children of migrant workers in the local school system, particularly in respect of teaching them the local language and the mother tongue and culture (article 45). Finally the treaty stipulates that in case of death of a migrant worker or dissolution of marriage, the state of employment shall favorably consider granting family members of that migrant worker residing in that state an authorization to stay (article 50). 

II. Organizations Promoting the Rights of the Family Worldwide

Do you know of an organization that you’d like to add to this list? E-mail to help us expand this resource guide. 

Freedom to Marry: Focusing on gay marriage rights in the United States, Freedom to Marry creates the climate for a Supreme Court victory by working on three tracks: growing the national majority for marriage, winning the freedom to marry in more states, and ending federal marriage discrimination. Freedom to Marry partners with individuals and organizations across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the protections, responsibilities, and commitment that marriage brings.

Girls Not Brides: Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 300 civil society organisations from over 50 countries working to address child marriage. Members are based throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas and are united by a commitment to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfil their

Global Fund for Women: The Global Fund advances the rights of women and girls by increasing the resources for an investing in women-led organizations and women’s collective leadership for change. The organization envisions a just, equitable, and sustainable world in which women and girls have resources, voice, choice, and opportunities to realize their human rights.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC): As the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, the Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide – all committed to making HRC's vision a reality. Founded in 1980, HRC advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office and educates the public about LGBT issues. 

Save the Children: The world’s leading independent organization for children, Save the Children works in approximately 120 countries to promote children’s rights, to provide life-saving services, and to help children fulfill their potential. The organizations aims to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives.

For a more complete directory of Family Rights organizations, you can access and download our family rights organizations resource guide here