Family-friendly policies in South Asia


Bringing up children is a core human activity. It requires care, time and resources. Yet, too often, all over the world, parents and other primary caregivers are left to struggle with this fundamental task without enough support. The burden of responsibility tends to fall disproportionately on women.
Often parents have to make impossible choices between earning enough money for their family and giving children the care that they need. These issues are particularly prominent in the child’s early years before statutory schooling.

The concept of ‘family-friendly policies’ has emerged as a way of thinking about and addressing these issues. There is no agreed definition of the concept, but it is generally conceived as a set of policies that help parents/caregivers to reconcile various aspects of work and family life. Such policies may differ from one region and location to another depending on, amongst other things:

Demographics, including the definition of what a family is, and its function

The characteristics of the labour market and the workplace

The social and cultural context, including attitudes, expectations and norms

The economic context

This report, produced in collaboration with UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA), addresses the issue of what family-friendly policies could look like in the South Asian context. It considers how these policies can be responsive to the particular characteristics and circumstances of countries in the region – including multi-generation families, family units built around adolescent mothers (and sometimes fathers), a large informal employment sector, and migration for work both within and outside countries. It also tackles the question of how family-friendly policies might need to evolve in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. It looks at the issue from the perspective of children’s rights, women’s rights, and human rights more generally.

The aims of the research underlying the report are:

  1. To develop a clear and practically useful way of thinking about family-friendly policies relevant to the country contexts of South Asia.

  2. To examine the current state of family-friendly policies in the countries of the region, identifying strengths and gaps.

  3. To make recommendations on ways forward for developing and strengthening family-friendly policies in the region and beyond.

This report begins with a review of previous work on family-friendly policies; a discussion of the specific features of the demographic, economic and social context in South Asia; and a clarification of concepts and definitions. It then examines three dimensions of family-friendly policies in the region – the workplace (Chapter 2), non-contributory social protection (Chapter 3) and childcare (Chapter 4). The concluding chapter draws together and summarizes the key strands and themes in the preceding chapters and makes a set of recommendations for the development of family-friendly policies within South Asia.

Download the report