Children’s Rights in Africa: A Forward March
Volume 1, Issue 1 / December 2008
I wonder how one can explain to an African parent—who grew up knowing spanking as the only way to correct a child—that it is wrong to do so because every child has a right not to be hit and to be talked to with love. I recently witnessed a scenario in which a mother refused to feed and clothe her child because he was naughty, commanding him to go to the Child Right’s Office at Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to be catered for.
In this mother’s perspective, the child belongs to her and she feels she can do anything with him as long as she delivered him. I also heard of a teenaged girl who became pregnant and her mother registered herself as the father to UNHCR, because she was unhappy with the girl’s boyfriend.
If we go back in history to observe Europe in the 1700s, we see that girl children could not attend school even if they came from rich families. While European boys were taken to school, girls were taken to finishing schools where they were taught how to cook, make their hair, and how to treat their families after being married. These finishing schools existed to ensure that girls could be married to rich and noble men and uphold their family name in the domestic sphere. Even after some parents began allowing their girls to attend school, they were few in number and girls were denied the opportunity to study subjects such as mathematics and science. Such subjects were believed to be “above” girl students and only boys could perform well.
During the industrialization period of the 1800s, there was coal to be mined. Factories that required many employees and cheap labor began to recruit children as workers. Child labor became the order of the day, as children did not have recognized rights and could not claim that they were too young to work, or that the wages they received were too little.
It took European societies more than 300 years to change all these attitudes and practices. After many years of change, all girls could finally attend school and child labor was made illegal.
Now, most African countries have had less than 50 years of independence, but we immediately embraced the change that came to us. It did not take us 300 years to change our habits or to realize that every human being has rights. The world is changing and we are running towards the better things that lie ahead.
I can say with hope that parents who still feel they must follow traditional ways of punishing children, or who feel they can control their children in terms of religion and culture, still have room to change—considering the fact that independence was introduced to us just the other day, yet we have taken so little time to embrace children’s rights!
Kudos to Africa. All we have to do now is to stay away from bad leadership that is threatening to tear our continent apart