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Ghanaian Children’s Notions of the Ideal Family Albert Awedoba and Deborah Atobrah Inst of African Studies, Univ. of Ghana.

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Presentation on theme: "Ghanaian Children’s Notions of the Ideal Family Albert Awedoba and Deborah Atobrah Inst of African Studies, Univ. of Ghana."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ghanaian Children’s Notions of the Ideal Family Albert Awedoba and Deborah Atobrah Inst of African Studies, Univ. of Ghana

2 INTRODUCTION The paper based on ethnographic study of urban, peri- urban and rural communities in the Gt Accra Region of Ghana. It focuses on views of children in grades five and six, pupils aged between 10 and 13 years. Many of these children are ethnically Ga. Class five pupils drew a picture of their ideal family and were asked to comment on their drawing. Class six wrote essays on the topic ‘My family in the Future’. The Ga, a coastal people, are indigenes of Accra; culturally they have been influenced by Akan, the predominant ethno-linguistic group of Ghana. We take this opportunity to thank UNFPA and the UCAD II for their support of the study.

3 Children’s Voices: Policy Perspectives As Prout (2000) and others have remarked, ‘children are not only shaped by society but also shape it.. in their own ways’ (KOMULAINEN 2007). It is children who grow into adults, and if they have perspectives, it would be foolhardy for policy makers to ignore them. Participant Observation has always been important in child socialisation. Children are critical observers of adult behaviour and their environments. Methodologically, children’s views provide a window into social perceptions. They furnish the means to triangulate, and even interrogate data collected from adults.

4 Children Know Much Children’s knowledge about reproductive health (RH) issues is astounding, given that in Ghana communities, sexual topics are taboo, not to be discussed in children’s presence. A rural mother comments: Sometimes when I eavesdrop on children’s conversations and in particular my own children of about eight and six... I get amazed at the kind of issues they raise..... they talk about... sex, having children and love; sometimes I wonder how they are so knowledgeable... [A 28 year mother] The rich tapestry of children’s perspectives on RH was obtained by posing the question: ‘what kind of family would you like to have in future?’

5 A section of Papase Primary Class 5 drawing their future family

6 Emma opts for 4 children: boy, girl, boy and girl. 1 st born goes to school; 2 nd sweeps; 3 rd studies; and 4 th will nurse her mother in ill health.

7 Rebecca opts for one child due to high school fees; she hopes to be a nurse but would trade on the side. She needs a daughter to help. Boys are not an asset

8 Salamata does not wish to have children; she fears she might not have the means to feed them

9 Elizabeth’s husband will be a polygynist. She will have a son, and her co-wife will have a daughter

10 Vista of Ideal Life or refraction of social Disequilibria? The Case of Papase, a poor rural community: The children wish to be professionals with secure employment as footballers (boys), nurses and traders (girls), doctors, soldiers and teachers. The pupils want well-to-do husbands and wives. They want responsible partners. They envisage middle class lifestyles in the city of Accra: beautiful homes and several expensive cars including four-wheel drive cars. They want their children well-fed and well-educated. They aim at living Christian lives in the fear of God devoid of crime and social vices [prostitution incl.].

11 Pupils on Marriage Pupils expected to be married between 25 and 35, when they would have completed their tertiary education. Most expected monogamy. The Children’s reasons against polygyny: Polygyny considered traumatising and stressful as co- wives would quarrel among themselves. Economic Constraints: A minority said they would not have adequate means to cater for more than one wife. Emotional Constraints: One boy said he would not have the time and energy to cater for the emotional needs of more than one wife. Infidelity: A pupil said he wished to remain faithful (i.e. polygamy meant infidelity).

12 Pupils Inclinations towards Polygyny Those opting for polygyny were a small minority. A boy, slightly older than the rest, said he would emulate Biblical King Solomon and have 10 wives. This 12 year old wants two wives: I also want marry two wives because I want to follow the steps of King Solomon. King Solomon married three hundred wives and seven hundred girlfriends. But me I will marry two to be able to control them as a good husband. A couple of girl pupils want their parents to find them responsible husbands. This does not rule out polygynous marriages

13 Papase Pupils’ Demand for Parenthood Most pupils hoped to be parents some day, but needs and expectations vary: Need for a successor; Need for a helper and companion [women]; Social prestige: childlessness is a curse; Secure old age: someone to care for you in future: I would like them [his children] to grow and travel to different countries, to explore their ambitions so that when I grow old they can support me when I’m in need of something. I will not like to grow up to let unscrupulous [sic] people to see me inferior and see themselves superior. – views of a male pupil.

14 Number of Children To Have The number of children desired by pupils in future ranged from none (0) to twenty (20). The main consideration is economic: the means to feed and educate one’s children to an appreciable level. The pupil needing six (6) children said his parents would like him to have six children, since his father had ten children. The boy hoping to have ten (10) wives said he would then have twenty children – two children per wife. He hoped that there would be seventeen (17) sons and three (3) daughters. Majority of pupils opted for four children

15 The Ideal Number of Children Though pupils differ in the number of children desired, most opted for four children. In the past Ga couples aimed at having 10 children to qualify for the rite of nyogmato. Most adult respondents now opt for less. The number four (4) seem to be the Ga ideal, as most respondents opted for four children per couple. This is reflected in the following comment by an adult rural respondent: ‘I would like my children to have four, four, given the nature of the country. Why four? I want even numbers.’ Four (4) is an auspicious number in some southern Ghana communities.

16 Choice of Child’s Sex Girl pupils prefer daughters; boy pupils opt for sons. Where a child elects to have several, it should be a mixture of sons and daughters, because boys and girls have different contributions. Emma makes the point: The 1 st born (boy) goes to school; 2 nd born (girl) does house chores; the 3 rd (boy) studies; and 4 th (girl) will nurse the mother in ill health. Girl pupils opt for daughters because they would assist them in what they do; to them sons are troublesome. Boy pupils on the other hand preferred to have more sons. One boy pupil remarked that sons would find a variety of jobs to do, but the daughters would only become pregnant and be a problem to the parents.

17 Sources of Children’s Information on RH It is important for policy makers to be aware of the sources of children’s information on RH issues. Snippets from adult Ga comments about their own childhood experiences suggest ff as sources of children’s RH knowledge: 1.Child sexual abuse and defilement: abusive adult may be a kinsman/woman or a person associated with the child [the media has copious reports] ‘I had sexual intercourse... when I was about six years old and my mother’s friend had sex with me when my mother was outside the country... she would start doing things to me –kissing and fumbling me and would remove my clothes and put me on her and rock me – moving up and down as couples engaged in the sex ’ – 31 year old man

18 Child learning from careless adults 2. Children observe adults performing sex: bedrooms are shared by parents and other adults and children; Children sometimes wake up during adult performance of sex in the night.... I was going to buy something but I did not come early so I met the door widely opened and I saw them having sex. They did not see me so I went back to rather spy on them and I got to know how to have sex 3. Exposure to adult movies and pornographic material. I was about twelve or so. There was... this pornographic book that a friend brought to school and we used to watch was something we knew.. people were doing it. The white people were doing it and we thought if you watched it you would become good at sex performance – 32 yr. old

19 Sources of Children’s RH Knowledge II 4. Play acting and Peer Education: children play daddy and mamma and they also observe physical differences between boys and girls when they are naked. 62 year old urban Ga male recollects childhood experiences: ‘.. I was about ten years old.... We took our baths with the girls. We would play mother-father.. I knew [by then] that on seeing a girl my penis would erect. We did not have education on the subject. We did not talk to adults about it as such behaviour was attributed to bad boys.’

20 Sources of Children’s RH Knowledge II 5. Adult conjugal roles conferral on children at tender ages when they are addressed by terms such as ‘my wife’, and ‘my husband’ by kin and associates in the immediate environment 6. Biology Class: Half-hearted attempts to teach RH in the upper primary classes. This is clear from posters on class- room walls. It is confirmed by the following comment from a 32 year old man: They started teaching us about these things when we were in class five... they told us that before you become a real woman – an adolescent - you will experience these things, and you will have certain feelings and if you are a man you will see certain things; and if you do not take care and you have an affair with a man you will become pregnant

21 Menarche and Wet Dreams Menarche and Sex education: Ga elderly say sex is like religion: Just as God is not shown a child, children are not taught about sex. Nevertheless most females interviewed say mothers gave rudimentary sex education on their attainment of menarche. They told them sexual contact with a man could result in pregnancy. Wet Dreams: For boys wet dreams furnish first experience of sex. A 31 year old man remarks: I have experienced wet dreaming. This was the first time that I realised.. I was capable of impregnating a woman, since I produced sperms. It happened at the age of 13 or 14

22 A Few Tentative Conclusions Pornographic materials circulate in schools. This should be checked by educational authorities. Provide reliable RH information to 10-12 years old children; they hanker for information on RH. Primary sch. children practice what they learn. The result is evidence of sexual abuse by teachers and pupils themselves. Paedophilia reports ignore boy infant abuse by male or female adults; they focus on adult males abusing female infants.

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