Recognising the International Day of the Boy Child, By Ahmad Sajoh

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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 focuses have always been on the “girl child”. But there is an International Day of the Boy Child. It is the 16th of May every

 year. It was officially adopted by the United Nations in 2018, which was 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 19

th

of November, 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 one to oppose the focus on the girl child, but rather to compliment it. This was the same position he took when proposing the International Men’s Day. It is not about opposition but rather 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 for our girls, while keeping the balance. Boys are becoming more vulnerable because, apart from physical abuse, including cases of sodomy, there is also the psychological torture that 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 an adult male 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 an “almajiri” in the North, “Area Boy” 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-working and they consider those on the street as their families. Being homeless and unloved, they are often rugged but equally 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 a 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 oneself at an early age. As a child, I begged for food, I hawked water and carried loads for people to survive. However, I grew up in a system that was not as unmerciful as we have today. If it were now, I surely would not have managed to lift 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 in the boy child 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 a programme that took place on the 20

th

of April. A foundation she established, known as Elizabethan Humanitarian Life (H & H) Foundation had organised an event with the theme, 

“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 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 examples.

My question at the event was 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 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 about 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. As such, 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 addressing 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, girl or boy.  

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