Children can’t be at the helm

2012-09-29 11:14

When did it become okay for children to head households? Will the real adults please stand up

How did we arrive at a point where we have accepted that children can head households?

We seem so okay with it that we even have programmes to “support” and maintain child-headed households.

I challenge us to revisit this outlook, to admit it is not right; but most of all, to do something to
remedy it.

How is it that when young girls are kidnapped by men old enough to be their fathers, we are told it is a cultural practice worth protecting – to the point that academics will be asked to contextualise and explain it, simply to justify child molestation and rape?

Yet the saying that it takes a village to raise a child has conveniently been forgotten. We ignore this ticking bomb at our own peril.

While we go on accumulating material wealth and showing off how much we can gather for ourselves, children heading households are left behind.

They are left to believe ours is an uncaring, inhuman, dog-eat-dog world. It is often orphaned girls who are at the receiving end of sex slavery. They are left to fend for themselves and their siblings.

This goes on while we continue to find reasons to party in the name of celebrating those who fought for us.

We have turned days that are meant to remind us of how much we still need to do to strengthen our democracy, like Heritage Day or Youth Day, into frivolous ­celebrations.

I honestly don’t believe that when we shout the names of those women who fought for our freedom, as we continue with our merriment, they would be impressed.

I can’t imagine Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Suzman chuckling at how we commemorate their efforts and contributions.

I suspect they would want to know when we are going to join hands, as they did, to build on what they started.

When are we going to make history worth commemorating? Surely a lot more can be achieved if we all exploit the democratic, non-restrictive environment to tackle modern-day South African challenges.

How are children to learn empathy, love and compassion when all they experience is a society with its head buried in the sand, leaving itself exposed and vulnerable to the realities of a bleak tomorrow?

There is something wrong with us if we sleep at night and turn a blind eye to such things.

This is where part of our hypocrisy gets exposed. How can we flaunt the Children’s Charter when some of those meant to benefit from it are forced to be adults before their time?

How can we brag about our Constitution and its clear articulation of children’s rights when many have to grow and fend for themselves while still young?

We are vocal about how child labour is wrong, yet turn a blind eye and pretend all South African children reap the rewards of democracy. Or do benefits apply to children with parents only?

And does modern-day parenting end with one’s own biological children?

I am told my grandmother passed on when my father was eight. He was raised by a village.

Yes, his grandparents were his immediate guardians, but the people who tell anecdotes about him confirm the whole village did not just become observers but were active participants in his upbringing.

My great grandparents did not only raise their two grandsons – they went on to expand their household by taking in their late sister’s four children.

They grew up surrounded by many cousins, eating meals from one plate.

There is no doubt our archives bear testimony to the good intentions we have on paper. But until we take responsibility as individuals, we will just keep on citing rights without action.

I implore all South Africans to ask themselves what inheritance we are going to leave for our children and grandchildren?

While we celebrate and pride ourselves on being citizens of a country where traces of human origins are found, we have lost what really makes us different from many other species – ubuntu.

Compassion has evaded us. Are we constantly going to archive our ancestors’ achievements and recite them to our children?

When are we going to build on their legacy so that generations to come also have a proud heritage they can celebrate and adopt without shame?

It pains and embarrasses me to say that many a television show points to other species’ compassion – what with dogs allowing orphaned piglets to suckle from them.

My selfish human nature struggles to accept that a dog can surpass us in this respect.

To that handful of my fellow citizens whose selfless commitment I have overlooked, I salute you. You do your part by being parents to children who had no parents.

To Edith Langa and her husband, thank you for raising Lebo as your own, and for treating her like six of your other children.

The thing is, there are so few people like her nowadays that generalisations are justified, until we can emulate her good deeds and multiply her worthy efforts.

» Malope is a public servant and writes in her personal capacity

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