Uju Asumpta: Single motherhood, plight of children and the price of playing the ostrich

  It is common knowledge that marriages are no longer what they used to be. ‘Baby Mamas’ or ‘Absentee Fathers’ have become commonplace. What...

 

It is common knowledge that marriages are no longer what they used to be. ‘Baby Mamas’ or ‘Absentee Fathers’ have become commonplace. What is even more disturbing is the apparent insensitivity and lack of humanity of some men that abandon their wives or ex-wives or who get girls pregnant, and refuse not only to be part of the growing child’s life and development with regards to physical presence and emotional involvement but also refusal to contribute financially to the upbringing and growth of the children they brought to the world with these women.

In some instances, out of spite or sheer disregard for the lady, some insist on taking the child from the mother and leaving the baby with their mother in the village or with a sibling or relation somewhere while they gallivant and continue their reckless living without qualms of conscience nor anyone to call them to their senses.

The consequence is that few still believe in love and family as it generally was in the 70s and 80s, and marriage breakdown and out of wedlock pregnancies are becoming the norm.

When parents or a couple are breaking up the children become victims of the emotional backlash between them. They are neglected, rejected and in most cases are abandoned by their fathers. The children become confused about their identity and are traumatized by the struggle their mum has to go through raising them alone. Often, children from broken homes are unable to achieve their biggest dreams because of lack of care, finances, and emotional instability. What is the future of these children facing grave struggles today?

These situations are brought to me frequently and they are saddening seeing that it is the child that suffers most in the long run. In one of the cases, a lady told me how her ex-husband took their child from her when they divorced and left the child in the village with his mother while he continued his life in the city. 22 years later the man died and this lady who had remarried was shocked to see the remarkable difference between her children from her second marriage compared to her first child from the earlier marriage that was left with her ex-husband’s mother in the village.

Who suffered most here? The child. Not because the mother couldn’t take care of the child but because of “culture”, a culture that says that the child belongs to the man. So even when the man has no plans for the child and the woman has the means and capacity to raise and nurture the child she cannot do so because she is only a slave and not a mother? It reminds me of the slave era in the US when female slaves were made to mate with the slave men or with the slave owners to raise more slaves for the farm.

This and many more is the plight of single mothers and their children in Nigeria & Africa. Not only the mental and emotional abuse, but the cultural and social ostracization, abuse and marginalization they have to endure is unacceptable, especially as their children are part of society. Society owes them welfare and support to protect its common good and security for the future.

The price of neglect is costly for the health and peace of society tomorrow when these children grow up. These attitudes inimical to the wellbeing and welfare of these women and their children, be they widows, divorcees or out-of-wedlock pregnancies arise from erroneous cultural beliefs about the male and female that have hypnotized men and women for decades and centuries in Africa.

Some of the results of these erroneous beliefs are what we see today in all odd and violent practices against women including rape, female genital mutilation, early marriage, bride price, nutritional taboos especially with regards to pregnant women, traditional birth practices, preference for the male child, restriction of the girl child’s access to education, prohibition or denial of female children from right to inheritance, widowhood practices, to mention but a few.

How do we go on with a culture that says a child belongs to the man as if the woman is just a birth tool or child producing machine? Should it be let to continue with the level of knowledge and enlightenment acquired over the years about the dignity of man and woman, especially in the 21st century? A people’s progress and civilization are seen in the jettisoning of ideas and cultural beliefs or attitudes that degrade or treat people as sub-human and without dignity. For any society to develop and progress it must embrace change and objectivity.

The Federal Government of Nigeria has many programs launched towards the transformation of the lives of its citizens. This is commendable. But the transformation agenda of the Federal Government of Nigeria should be holistic and inclusive of the need to assist all citizens, without any discrimination, in their pursuit of self-actualization so that they can contribute to national development. This is a fundamental and basic human right.

As a single mother myself, I am creating awareness about this very neglected group in our society but which is key to the future wellbeing and welfare of our society. I believe that it is within our powers to eliminate all man‐made discrimination and subjugation of women in our society through changing our cultural mindset and awakening from our hypnosis.

There are so many other stories of erroneous cultural beliefs and their sadistic consequences for the child. The question continues to be asked, how a child could be left to suffer or be wounded so much because of some cultural beliefs? Does the culture consider the best interest of the child in the first place, or is the child simply an object without a soul or significance but for the mere narcissistic and sadistic satisfaction of his/her progenitor?

How long will we cast our eyes away and bury our heads in the sand like the Ostrich and pretend we do not see this grave injustice and harm being perpetuated against humanity and on our children?

It is about such erroneous cultural beliefs: of male superiority over women, and the cultural hypnosis that encourages them that we are creating awareness: to awaken consciences to the apparent evil and grave injustice in such cultural assumptions or beliefs taken for granted but which inflict deep mental and emotional wounds on innocent children and which hamper their better future.

These social and cultural programming that is causing so much harm to many has to stop and I am resolved to teach and show how we can make changes on the outside and on the inside of each child and each individual, men and women, so that in the future having reinvented our culture, we can tell a story that embraces equally the power of women as well as the power of men for a better and more balanced and happy society.

As part of efforts at ameliorating this unhappy situation, I encourage women to participate in this social change movement and transformation by telling their story, seek for counselling and therapy, develop skills and expertise to be entrepreneurs or be employable to be self-sustaining and financially autonomous, be aware of bodies that can assist in different ways, be equipped and apprised on ways to seek justice and legal redress when needed at the court of law, create local and national awareness on the plight of single mothers in our society. And finally, seek further solutions or ways to combat this sad reality in our society.

It is a proven truth that the rise and fall of any society is the strength of family life predicated on the particular presence or absence of fathers. Any child that grows up without proper parenting is a loose cannon and will lead a mutiny or riot against the common good tomorrow and we are all going to be his/her victims, whether in the marriage of our children or children’s children or as victims of kidnappings, robbery and all kinds of social ills.

There is an emergency upon us presently. In Lagos alone, according to the Deputy Governor, Dr. Kadri Obafemi Hamzat, at the Center for Value in Leadership Annual Lecture series on February 6, 2020, there are over 1.1 million single mothers who don’t know where the fathers of their children are. If we expand this to the rest of Nigeria and other States of the Federation one can only imagine the vast number of such women who are alone in raising their children.

The Universal Charter on the Rights of the Child (UNESCO) insists that children have a right to Education and Welfare by their Parents and Civil Society. There is no gainsaying the fact that most of the crimes and challenges we face in society arise from the absence of education and adequate parenting for children the bulk of which are children from broken homes and families.

Because a mother is disempowered by her circumstance and without child support nor economic empowerment, she faces further abuse, exploitation, and degradation in society as she seeks economic and social empowerment for herself and her children.

For what most times is no fault of hers she has to struggle with social and psychological stigmatization, marginalization and the emotional struggles of her children growing up without a father. And even if they take responsibility for their part in all that has unfolded in their lives and brought them to where they are at there is still a general lack of acceptance and support from both their religious and local communities. They are made to feel guilty for their condition, especially when they were never married as if the decision to keep a pregnancy rather than abort it was wrong.

This attitude from society leads to both mental and physical health issues and complications for these women. As medical science and psychology lets us know, 75% of physical sicknesses arise from emotional problems. And some of the greatest emotional problems people experience are guilt and rejection. The bottom line is that single mothers face huge personal, economic, and social challenges that civil society cannot ignore for its general and common good.

In conclusion, I reiterate once again the urgency of now, the need for a change in the cultural attitude that affects women in Nigeria negatively. We have to choose our tomorrow as a people and society. Certainly, it won’t be a stroll in the park trying to change an age-long psychological and social programming, especially as we ramp up against a male-dominated cultural mindset. And as we are reminded that it is a hard and arduous task to change mindsets, we must not be discouraged but rather dig in our heels and never forget that cultures don’t ever change because people are ready.

They change because brave people make them ready. Our tomorrow is Now.

Uju Asumpta is a Conscious-Living Educator and End of Life Doula. She is a Social Activist/Advocate. She can be reached on Mobile: +2348032741044, Email: [email protected]

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