In the past couple of days, I heard the case of a child, a beautiful person and brilliant scholar, whose life is basically over even before it started. It left me in despair and itching to say something about society and the selfishness, lack of seriousness and a self-indulgence that has produced the chaotic parenting and attendant suicide epidemic in Africa today.
This wonderful young person attended one of those schools in leafy estates much beloved of the middle classes and which, truth be told, do a decent job of educating and affirming children. The child had a phenomenal mind, well beyond the average ‘A’ student.
Those schools are dedicated to supporting talented children and lighting a fire under those who lag behind the rest. They are obsessive about moving all the children together. So, this child got a lot of attention and buckets of affirmation.
At around Standard Five, the sky fell on the child’s world. There was conflict and trauma at home. Not much effort seems to have been made to protect the children from it. Obviously, the parties had no way of knowing what effect their decisions would have on their offspring. I’m sure if they knew they would have acted differently. I assume the parents acted on the basis of how they felt, or to protect themselves, or perhaps to hurt the other.
Many drastic decisions were taken, including a request to change the child’s name. The child’s life went into a veritable death spiral. By the time the child joined high school, the child had attempted suicide 16 times. It will take a miracle to save that life and rebuild that child.
I didn’t seek the details of this case and I don’t know the identity or even gender of this child, or the school and guardians in question, nor am I trying to. It was just a troubling anecdote that stuck in my mind and caused me to question many things.
Parenting, the job of creating new human beings, is one of the most important duties of humanity. Individuals collectively make up a family and families collectively make up communities, which ultimately constitute societies and nations. Parents create nations; parenting is so important that it’s an existential — national security even — concern. Yet, many countries, especially in Africa, pay no heed to it.
Traditionally, we had perfected the template for producing functional and useful citizens. But we are societies in transition. We’ve abandoned many of our cultures in favour of the white man’s ways. Yet we have not fully understood them and we don’t, therefore, apply them successfully.
We’ve moved from our villages to the cities (and the village was an important apart of rearing our children). So, we find the job of raising them is now left to a man and his wife who are busy and subject to alien pressures without the protective cordon of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives vital to raising us.
Imperfect human beings
As a result, Africa is producing imperfect human beings. As a result, the continent has the highest suicide rate in the world — 11.2 deaths for every 100,000 population. Among men, it is even higher, at 18, compared the global average of 12.6.
Lesotho, the tiny state down south, has a suicide rate of 87.5 per 100,000 population — 146.9 among males and 34.6 among females. Kenya’s suicide rate is 11 on average, 18.1 among men and 5.3 among women.
I’ve not done extensive research but, from the little that I’ve done, I notice that parenting is an important risk factor in suicide. Children who are neglected or rejected by their parents are at a higher risk; mothers’ and fathers’ warmth, as well as mothers’ strong control over adolescent children, is empirically protective.
From this internet research, authoritative parenting produces children who are less inclined to commit suicide.
The casual manner in which families are constructed in Africa contributes to this disaster. A boy meets a girl and they start living together and having children immediately, even before they decide whether they like each other enough to get married. They’ve done nothing to prepare for the responsibility of raising a family and, as I pointed out, they don’t live with family, so there is nobody to guide them.
There ought to be rules about child bearing and parenting. While you can’t legislate everything, we should enforce the rule that, before you move in with each other, you should go and see your parents and, before you have children, you must go through the traditional requirements, be it dowry or bride price. This provides an opportunity for parental instruction.
And if parenting is an important and delicate task, shouldn’t it be expected of everyone? In the West, many families don’t have children. Single-person households are common. It’s better to take the decision not to have children than to have them and neglect them.
As a society, we should stop pressuring people — some who are clearly unsuited — to have children. It’s, certainly, a lot more painful to waste a brilliant life than to not have produced it in the first place.