CELEBRATING THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE BOY CHILD
By Ahmad Sajoh
I wonder how many people are aware of the fact that there is an International Day of the Boy Child? Perhaps we are all obsessed with protecting our daughters that our focus has always been the “Girl Child”. But there is an International Day of the Boy Child. It is May the 16th of Every year. It was officially adopted by the United Nations in the year 2018 around five years ago. The pioneer in the struggle to focus attention on the Boy Child is Jerome Teelucksingh. A lecturer in History at the University of West Indies, Jerome is also the founder of the International Men’s Day which is celebrated on the 19th of November of every year. He is known for his commitment to gender mainstreaming and inclusion. He has been passionate about building an inclusive society.
According to the Founder of International Day of the Boy Child, the day is not to be marked as a Day to oppose the focus on the Girl Child, but rather to compliment it. This was the same position he took when proposing the International Mens Day. It is not about opposition, rather it is about inclusion. We must all accept the fact that as a society we really need to mainstream our boys and protect them as much as we do to our girls while keeping the balance. Boys are becoming more vulnerable because apart from physical abuse including in some cases sodomy, there is also the psychological torture boys go through in patriarchal societies. Worst still is the neglect, the abandonment and recruitment into terror gangs and criminal conclaves.
In a patriarchal society such as ours, a boy is expected to be macho, fend for himself at an early age, get a job, marry a wife and maintain a family. In some societies a boy-adult who still stays in his parent’s house is called a woman by his peers. Boys must be boys no matter what. But with all these expectations several boys are on the streets without homes or even families. Whether as “Almajiri” in the North, “Area Boys or Alaye” in Lagos and the South West, or by whatever name they are called, street children are minors who live, survive and grow on the streets and most of them are boys. They are street-living, street-working, street surviving, street-growing and they consider the street their family. Being homeless and unloved, they are often rugged but vulnerable.
Two reasons made me develop interest in the phenomenon of the abandoned boy-child in Nigeria. First, I almost became a victim of such condition. It is just providence that saved me from being at the mercy of the vagaries of abandonment. I know exactly how it feels to be treated as an abandoned child. I understand the anxieties that go with being neglected as a child. I understand what it is to start fending for yourself at an early age. As a child I begged for food, I hawked water and I carried loads for people to survive. However, I grew up in system that was not as unmerciful as we have today. If it were now, I surely will not have lifted my head out of the water. Then there was merit as brilliance was rewarded with generous scholarships and opportunities. But today things are totally different.
The second reason I got interested is due to an event I witnessed recently. A blessed woman with a heart of gold called Mrs Oyinade Samuel-Eluwole invited me to Lagos for an event that took place on the 20th of April 2023. A Foundation she established known as Elizabethan Humanitarian Life (H & H) Foundation had organized an event themed “Rescue the Boyz: A Pathway to Societal Inclusion” One of the reasons that made me accept to attend the function is the clear commitment of this noble woman to addressing the plight of street children especially the boys. Her vision for rescuing the boys is very profound. She is doing it as concerned mother. I understand that the wife of the Lagos State Governor Her Excellency Dr Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu also has a foundation focusing on the “Boy-Child” These are commendable steps.
My question at the event is that why do we men allow women to lead us in rescuing ourselves. Boys become men. So why are men not showing enough concern for the plight of our boys. There should be more voices and actions of men in rescuing our boys who are out there in the streets. No one said the girl child should not be protected. In fact, Mrs Oyinade Samuel-Eluwole was very clear on that when she said “You may want to ask why are we focusing on rescuing the boys and why are we not rescuing the girls? As a society we’ve been rescuing the girls and we’ll still continue to rescue the girls from various ills. We believe that there’s so much focus on the girl child and we’re leaving the boys behind. In fact, we’ve left them behind almost to a level of neglect.”
Street boys are the cannon fodder and the recruitment pool for all manner of social miscreants such as Boko Haram Insurgents, Armed Bandits, Kidnappers, Shila boys, Kalare, Area Papas, Political thugs, Street Touts and related criminal gangs. So, the International Day of the Boy Child should remind us of our collective guilt in neglecting the Boy child which led us to the spate of insecurity bedeviling the nation from all angles and in all directions.
As we celebrate the international day of the boy child this year, let us reflect on the dangers of the neglect the boy child. Let us look towards taking definite actions to address the neglect of the boy child. Let us summon the courage to end the phenomenon of street children by whatever name called. Let us protect our boys as much as we protect our girls. Inclusion means every child matters, boy or girl.
Ahmad Sajoh writes from No. 35 Oran Steet Wuse zone 1 Abuja and can be reached on 08058421126 (text only)