WHAT IS IN A GIRL CHILD? – by ChukwuEmika Udedibor ESQ and Chioma Ikegbunam ESQ

In Igbo land children are highly valued and cared for because they are regarded as wealth – both in the literal and metaphorical sense. In most Igbo cultures including Ebonyi, extended families look with anticipation to the eventual celebration of their daughters’ marriages and the Umunna cannot wait to partake of joyous feast and of course the bride price and cultural demands from the groom’s family. Their sons on the other hand are cherished for a more apocalyptic reason – the fear of losing a lineage or the continuation of a family name.

Thus, lack of children is suggestive of a curse by the gods or consequence of an action or inaction by the couple; or even worse still not by the couple themselves but their generations past. Children are therefore imperative for couples.

However, over time, families began to value the continuation of the family name – which a female child losses at marriage – and male children gradually began to assume more significance over female. And so there is not-so-complete joy at the arrival of only female children in a family. The birth of a male which is considered as a good omen to an Igbo family is often heralded with greater delight than that of a female child. This preference of male children has become so unhealthily intense that in emergencies and disasters, many Igbo parents selectively attend to their male children. A pathology such as this was one of the unreported and undocumented tragic tales of the civil war – many parents fled with their sons, livestock, bicycles, clothing and jewelries, leaving their female children behind.

After all the hullabaloo of the birth, the children are then raised and nurtured differently as occasioned by cultural constructs and circumstances before their birth. Male children are consequently raised and socialized to see themselves as future heads of households, breadwinners and possessing superior authorities over their wives and children while the female children are taught to be obedient , submissive , meek and humble housekeepers; trained  and prepared almost exclusively for the inevitable task of child bearing, nurturing, rearing and protection. Thus socially, the male child suffers less rejection, prejudice, discrimination abandonment than his female counterpart.

This evidently irked Chimamanda Adichie as much as it irks me to make her lament ‘We police girls. We praise girls for virginity but we don’t praise boys for virginity and it makes me wonder how exactly this is supposed to work out; since the loss of virginity is a process that usually involves two people of opposite genders’.[1]

Furthermore and ironically, some families devote more and sometimes unhealthy concentration on the girl child to the detriment of the boy child because the former are perceived as more vulnerable, prone to abuse and social vices; and the latter do not need as much attention. A conventional parlance the traditional society employs to forgive the excesses of the boy child is Boys will be Boys. This imbalance in their perception, acceptance and upbringing thus culminates in a society prone to abusing the other gender; if for no other reason but to compensate for the lack or excess they see in the other gender but do not enjoy. Whilst the boy child is prone to abuse, social construct of the traditional Igbo society has cultivated the soil for the physical, emotional or sexual abuse of the girl child. Sad! What is even sadder is that these children are very under aged; – a crime known as Defilement.

This crime – defilement is now very rampant in Ebonyi state and the world at large – maybe because due to civilization more victims are speaking out.

Section 277 of the Child Rights Act of 2003 defines “a child as a person who has not attained the age of eighteen. Definition of Sexual Defilement varies in different jurisdictions as there is no universal accepted legal definition to it. Child’s sexual defilement is defined by African Network For the Prevention and protection against Child  Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) Nigeria Chapter Annual Report (Abuja ANPPCAN  2007) ‘as a behavior that exposes a child below 18 years of age to sexual content in which the child is used to obtain sexual stimulation and gratification’. The rampancy of these cases of defilement of minors in Ebonyi State has given rise to the contemplation of making it a capital offence in other to curb the steady alarming trend.

It is more disheartening that Parents, uncles, religious leaders and generally persons of trust are the prime perpetrators of this crime and pitifully, society has made it uneasy for victims and their parents/guardians due to stigmatization thereby worsening the trauma. It is pertinent to note that a civilization relies on the individuals it produces and these individuals in turn rely on the civilization that produce them. Therefore, it is safe to aver that the vices perpetuated today such as defilement of minors are a product of the civilization that has produced our children and these children are now birthing a civilization of defilement. The vicious circle continues unless drastic measures are taken.

Measures such as balancing the imbalance of nurturing genders differently and disproportionately because of cultural dictates must stop. The idea that the girl child needs more attention thus is overly protected socially especially to the detriment of the boy child breeds an unhealthy disparity. The boy child slowly develops the abusive tendency from childhood, which is either not noticed due to inadequate attention or ignored because of societal and cultural tolerance for chauvinism. Thus parents must learn to be very proportionately observant and curb these trends and tendencies. Respect for the female gender must be inculcated into the male child.

All staff and volunteers of HRCRC have undergone a child safeguarding and protection training and have signed up to the Safeguarding Policy of St. Patrick’s Missionary Society – our mother organization. It is armed with this policy and other instruments such as the Child Rights Act/Law and VAPP that we go sensitizing the public on safeguarding not only the girl child but all children because they are the civilization and future we live for today. Let us collectively build a non-gender biased society that guarantees equal rights, equal opportunities and equal benefits for every individual.

[1] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We should all be feminists

WHAT IS IN A GIRL CHILD? – by ChukwuEmika Udedibor ESQ and Chioma Ikegbunam ESQ

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