A heartbreaking story about girls as young as ten years being sent to a camp to be taught how to have sex has aggrieved my heart and made me wonder albeit in a somewhat rhetoric manner – Why do we steal their innocence?
This age old, time-honoured ritual has been going on for a real long time in Malawi. Little girls are told by their parents and guardians that they are attending a camp with their friends and then they take them to this ‘initiation camp’ where they are taught how to lose their virginity. They are children – some are ten, some are younger – and yet instead of the preservation of their innocence, someone somewhere is snatching their childhood away and burdening their very soul with loads they are unprepared to carry.
It is just not happening in Malawi. It is happening here in Nigeria. We call it culture, tradition … religion. We call it a parent’s right to do as he/she pleases with the child he/she bore. We tell ourselves … and the world … that it has always been so, ‘our forefathers did it.’
Well our forefathers ran butt naked, didn’t they? They walked miles, slept on bare floors, farmed the earth for food – I don’t see us doing it now, do you?
If we are not in a mad hurry to ‘marry them off’ and be free of our responsibilities, we are selling them off to child traffickers and they instead of us, become the bread winners. The case of two women convicted for trafficking two children aged six and nine in Lagos is still fresh in my heart. And that is just the one we heard of, the ones we managed to catch.
I hear these things, read about them and I shudder and wonder to myself, “why do we rob these children of their innocence, their childhood?” Why do we trifle with these precious and rare gifts God has given to us? Why do we neglect our responsibilities and duties towards these young and defenceless ones in our society? Why do we turn the other eye? Pretend we don’t hear them when they cry out? Push them away when they try to reach for our hands?
What can we do, you’d wonder … as I most often do. I don’t know really … that is the sad truth.
But I got an idea. How about you start from your home. Provide for the child, children that you are blessed with. Nurture them, educate them, socialize them, protect them. How about you open your eyes, not be too overwhelmed by the pressures of work and the need for survival and see when your girl child is being exposed to abuse and your boy child too? How about you educate your boy child to honour and respect girls, women by first learning to honour and respect his mother, his sister, his aunt, his girl cousin? How about teaching your girl child self-value, self-respect, self-appreciation, boosting her self-esteem? How about a little sex education at home for your kids?
And really finally, how about a little family planning, dear parents, huh? You know the depth of your pocket, you understand the limit of your abilities, so why exceed it?
Let us not just sit and do nothing or wonder what we can do, let us begin from our homes and then step out to the neighbourhood, the community, the church, mosque wherever. Let us do something!
– “Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”
Those are the words of Dave Pelzer.
And Frederick Douglass says – “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
That says a lot about what we have to do, don’t you think?
I leave you with the words of Vashti Quiroz-Vega –
“Don’t turn your face away. Once you’ve seen, you can no longer act like you don’t know. Open your eyes to the truth. It’s all around you. Don’t deny what the eyes to your soul have revealed to you. Now that you know, you cannot feign ignorance. Now that you’re aware of the problem, you cannot pretend you don’t care. To be concerned is to be human. To act is to care.”