By Yetunde Olagbuji
May 16 has been designated as the International Day of the Boy Child. But unfortunately, the celebration is not widely commemorated like the day set aside for the girl child.
The boy child seems not to be receiving equal attention as the girl child. In schools, girls are preferentially treated better than their male counterparts and little or no attention is paid to the boy child.
Many of the problems with the girl child such as lack of education, sexual abuse, early marriage, sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancy etc. have hitherto been brought to the front burner and they are being tackled and supported by all stakeholders at all levels but what is happening to the issues of the boy child? In situations where a boy and a girl are caught in a sexual act, society deliberately overlooks the effect of the action on the male child but rather focuses on the female as the only victim that requires chastisement and rehabilitation.
There is a societal norm in Africa that believes that the male gender is strong and so doesn’t require pampering or support like the female weaker gender. Boys are usually trained not to show their weakness by shedding tears even at the point of great discomfort. In a patrimonial society as obtained in the African setting, males are made to feel they can do whatever they feel like doing without caution, and this is usually supported with the common saying that “it is a man’s world”. Most parents intentionally train their female children how to cook, do household chores and how to undertake general responsibilities, while they leave their boys to watch television, play football and dominate as the head. Male children are seen as idols to be worshipped and little wonder, almost all families long to have at least one male child to preserve the name of the family.
Painfully, the society forgets that the boy child who is not well nurtured and prepared for the future will equally undergo developmental changes as an adolescent and will experiment with very risky behaviours more than their female counterparts. Our society is being littered today with male street urchins, kidnappers, armed robbers, ritual killers, and fraudsters. The northern part of Nigeria breeds almajiris in their numbers, who are gradually making that part of the country unbearable for indwellers with their transformation into bandits and terrorists. In addition, because boys are not being supervised and protected as girls, they are usually groomed as thugs or area boys and readily used to cause mayhem during political crisis.
According to the 2015 UNICEF report, one in ten boys have been sexually abused in Nigeria, compared to one in four girls. Lack of parental attention exposes boys early to sex and later they become sex addicts who grow up not being able to keep one woman in marriage and the society excuses that as a normal thing. Boys may also be sexually molested by aunties, househelps and fellow boys and because less attention is paid to them, they get addicted to sexual intercourse and later we wonder why some men have no restriction or shame about who they have sexual intercourse with. Some boys become addicted to masturbation and pornography as adolescents, and their marriages become a living night mare as adults. They loose their ability to delay gratification and self control and because the society assumes they are strong, they are not able to confide in anyone their pains and difficulties.
Just like their female counterpart, adolescent males also struggle with low self-esteem and may be lured into drugs and substance abuse, while seeking for identity. Furthermore, lack of attention of the boy child makes them prone to peer pressure. Evidence has equally shown that persistent loss of self-esteem may snowball into depression and later suicide. As at today, a larger proportion of those who commit suicide are males.
Furthermore, there is an increase in the number of men who become violent in their marriages today because they were victims of violence as children and also because they were never trained to control their temper and delay gratification. This knowledge gap stems from the misconception that the boy child is strong enough to figure out everything.
The lack of attention of the male children requires an urgent response from all stakeholders to prevent a dysfunctional society as we are already experiencing.
Parents should provide guidance, training, discipline and nurturing to both male and female children without discrimination. Every child regardless of their sex or gender deserves attention, supervision and monitoring. The aim of parents should be to raise children who are balanced physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially, socially, spiritually, etc.
The myths and misconceptions about the male gender should be dispelled through continuous behavioural change communication messages to the communities.
Boys should be equipped with life building skills (goal setting, decision making, assertive skills, values, negotiation skills, refusal skills, self-esteem) to help them navigate successfully through the vulnerable phase of their lives.
There should be more awareness about caring for the boy child during the commemoration of the international day of the boy child. All stakeholders such as Government, Schools, Churches, Civil Society Organizations, Development partners such as United Nations Organizations should be involved in the campaign.
There should be continuous advocacy to relevant stakeholders about the uniqueness of the boy child and how to promote their healthy growth and development.
Gender equality campaigns should not leave any gender behind.