Thai families no longer fit a mould
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Thai families no longer fit a mould

Today is Family Day in Thailand, and it is appropriate that it is marked at a time when people are already taking time off work to return home and reunite with loved ones to celebrate Songkran together.

As it does every year, the government seeks to emphasise the traditional ideal of three generations enjoying a happy time together. PM Srettha Thavisin encouraged Thais nationwide to take advantage of this opportunity to visit elders and relatives back home, a tradition that is indeed the heart of the Songkran Festival.

Televisions and media offer up heart-warming images of the young generations reuniting with ageing grandparents, or large families holding parties to celebrate the Songkran Festival.

Yet for many, this ideal does not match their reality. While celebrating Family Day or reuniting with families for Songkran, it is vital to acknowledge that most families no longer fit this traditional mould.

Contemporary families come in different sizes and forms with different challenges. Holding on to conventional family values without recognising new realities will not help ease their struggles. Rather, it will hurt those who cannot live up to traditional family ideals.

Single mothers, divorced parents, childless families, teenage mums, domestic violence, living alone in old age, double workloads for working mothers, daughters' obligations to care for ageing parents and the LGBTQ community's rights to form families: these are some of the challenges of modern families in Thailand. Needless to say, many are faced with little or no policy support.

Numerous studies have shown changes in family structures amid rapid social and demographic shifts in Thailand. Government policymaking should be based on reality and available figures rather than an outdated family ideal that rarely exists today.

According to the Department of Women's Affairs and Family Development, single-parent families account for over 83% of all families, while traditional extended families account for only 13%.

In the past two decades, family sizes have shrunk due to rapidly shrinking birth rates. According to a study by Dr Patama Wapattanawong, single-parent families have more than doubled from 8.8% to 20.5%, while two-person families have also nearly doubled from 15.9% to 27.3% of the overall number of families. At the same time, families consisting of more than three people have decreased from a 75.3% share of the total to 52.2%.

During the same period, single-parent homes have jumped 41% from 970,000 to 1.37 million households. About 80% of these are single mothers, according to a study by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Additionally, the number of childless couples has tripled from 5.6% to 16% of all Thai households.

Meanwhile, the number of families where children live with grandparents has doubled. Over three-quarters of these "skip-generation" families live in rural areas, and grandmothers are usually the household heads and caregivers.

Another study shows a clear change in family structure. According to a sample survey by Jongjit Ritthirong and a team at Mahidol University's Institute for Population and Social Research, over a third of children aged 3-14 are not raised in traditional families. Over 10% live with grandparents while over 24% live with single mothers or fathers.

Families in a fully-aged society face a myriad of challenges. According to the National Statistical Office, 12% of the 21.9 million families consist of elderly people living alone or with only their spouses.

For families living with children, daughters are the main caregivers. The care burden on women, now free and without state support, is immense. According to the Foundation of Thai Gerontology Research and Development Institute, there will be more than 300,000 bedridden elderly people in the next decade, most with little or no savings.

Gender norms assigning caregiving responsibilities to women affect women in all types of families. In Thailand, the teenage pregnancy rate ranks among the highest in the world, forcing young mothers to halt their education to care for newborns. Working mothers need to shoulder household chores and childcare. The alimony law is ineffective, leaving divorced women primarily responsible for childcare costs.

Since families are crucial for nurturing future generations, policy support for mothers to maintain children's well-being is essential, regardless of family structure.

For instance, enforcing alimony rigorously is one way of ensuring adequate child support. Extending paid maternity beyond three months is essential. Teenage mothers need support to continue their education, and the government should also provide more support for home care services which help relieve pressure on public hospitals. Policies must reflect the modern reality of single families.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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