It’s a fact universally acknowledged that a new born baby is a bundle of joy. Pure and unalloyed joy. Either born into wealth or privation, the baby trailing clouds of glory is regarded as a gift from heaven. Without trying to over-dramatize or exacerbate the experiential trauma and permanent agony of childlessness, we do know what unaccountable public obloquy and private misery those seeking the fruit of the womb go through in these parts. Out of shame or desperation, after waiting on the Lord for eons, some couples resort to a slew of measures, some downright unprintable, to right the wrong of nature. Whilst some would approach motherless baby’s homes to adopt a child, others would simply settle for surrogate motherhood. For this latter situation, a woman who has been unable to conceive on her own, perhaps due to underlying medical condition(s) might agree with her husband to allow another womb-man (woman) take his ‘seed’ and bear issue for the both of them. As soon as the woman is delivered of her baby, the couple would collect their baby and the woman is paid off and she promptly disappears into thin air. As hinted earlier we are not going to go into other desperate measures people take in order to have their own ‘bundle of joy.’ No, decency will forbid us to do so. Callow and curious readers may approach an adult in the room for details on that scare. Now, let us advert our attention to a different scenario; still on the same issue of child-bearing. A couple desiring to have a baby ‘know’ each other, in the manner of Abraham and Sarah, or, to be more contemporary, John Thomas and Lady Jane and the wife takes in and nine months later, she comes to term and is delivered of a baby, male or female, it is inconsequential. The family instantaneously erupts into a delirium of conviviality with friends and well-wishers all putting in an appearance to ‘wash’ it. No sooner is the child weaned, the couple is blessed with another adorable angel, the following year. To be sure, we find such a situation whereby, in a space of five years, a couple already has at the very least four issue. But, let’s be clear: enlightened and relatively comfortable people tend to space the birth of their children and also have fewer children. But those not-so-comfortable and, therefore, subsist in straitened circumstances tend to spawn and sire children by the gross, regarding the multitude of their wards and charges as God’s blessings and as such, God will provide the requisite ingredients to leaven the dough.
Poverty is common, it knows neither race nor color. It does not discriminate- you are poor, you’re poor, that’s it. Deal with it! The ways and manner in which some ‘deal with it’ are downright heart-breaking. Fellow Nigerians, what level of lack, what pain of poverty will make a couple, husband and wife, ABANDON their children to wolves in the shape of humans? How can you abandon ALL your so- called ‘bundle of joy’ in the callous care of your neighbors, friends, even relatives, knowing full well nobody can look after your baby as well as you can? In urban centers, for instance, during rush hours, you can see a child of five chaperoning two or three siblings to school right in the bedlam and traffic madness on the insensate road. The same scenario is witnessed during closing time, say, between 2pm and 5pm. Amid the din and confusion, the rat- race over lucre with humongous humanity jockeying for space, you find the ragged and woe-begone group of tiny-tots, children who can barely tell you their parents’ names or house address, cockroaching its way through the urban inferno. And you ask: ‘These kids, do they have parents?’ Why on earth have their so-called parents allowed them to roam the roads, unaccompanied?! And you begin to pray silently-whilst ensconced in the paradise of your air-conditioned carapace, your own kids, eating ice cream in the back seat, far, far from gritty Truth-you pray: ‘God have mercy on these kids!’.
But does God always answer these prayers? For city-dwellers, how many times have you seen road mishaps involving the under- aged? What is or can be more horrendous than the sight of a child mangled in a road accident beyond recognition? Then what becomes of ‘your bundle of joy’? The other day, a woman was seen with a child crossing a very busy road. She had dashed across the highway ALONE! Tell you what, the child had to be helped by a good Samaritan who, upon safely handing the child over to the woman, had given her an earful on the dangers of parental irresponsibility. Where- upon, the woman countered that the child wasn’t hers; she was just an auntie! And so what! Where are your maternal instincts? Her defense? She thought the child could look after itself!
By the same token, that same unaided child grows up and in a few years down the road picks up an occupation, wait for it: prostitution. That’s the final destination usually for a girl child who is abandoned by her parents to the mercy of the street. We all see these things around us, don’t we? School-age children vending all sorts of items on busy roads crawling with vehicular traffic. Some sell recharge cards, ‘pure’ water, bread, etc. We all see child-beggars asking alms for survival. Sadly, under the circumstances, some of these waifs-and-strays grow up, thanks to the street, to become enemy nationals, who have been left high and dry all their lives. As stressed above, some are routinely abused and left emotional wrecks all their lives, thereafter, some nursing a grudge against polite society and thus happily elect to be inducted into the criminal underworld, becoming spivs, cut-purses, petty thieves, drug peddlers and addicts, burglars, armed robbers, bandits, kidnappers and rapists, among other derelict categories.
In Africa, and one supposes everywhere, family is everything. Now, we should ask ourselves, what self-respecting family will tolerate their name being associated with crime? With shame and disgrace? One supposes it is high time we stopped blackmailing God by saying ‘God will provide’. You cannot give birth to a litter of piccaninnies and say in edgewise, God will meet ALL my needs…. stop the bulk- passing; it’s irresponsible. Couples can and should make love and NOT babies if they cannot adequately support them. When a child is denied love, care and material support, that child is liable to suffer low self-esteem, inferiority complex, loss of personal dignity. He or she will feel disinherited, disenfranchised and as a result regard himself or herself as homo ordinario and see life itself as meaningless. Therefore, we need to get the kids off our roads. Poverty is not an excuse, dear fathers and mothers. Each household can work out a workable arrangement to know how they can raise their kids with proper and sound family values. What works for one family might not necessarily work for another family. If both parents must pursue their respective careers, then they must seriously think through the modus operandi of raising their children so that they do not work at cross-purposes. What shall it profit a couple, if they gain the whole world and LOSE their children? But, come to think of it, must everybody take up a paid employment? Can’t one work from home? Must everybody look forward eagerly to week-days in offices and workplaces where they will be seen and be appreciated? The desire to be seen, to be appreciated, to mingle is, to tell the truth, the root- cause of the matter at hand. The man can cage his ego and look after the kids while the wife is up and about, fending for the family and vice versa. But under no circumstances must the children be allowed out of doors unaccompanied by a parent or responsible adult. We cannot stress this point enough. As much as one is loath to cite Europe and North America as the gold standard in everything, one is constrained, nonetheless, to refer to these societies as exemplary regarding child care. An irresponsible couple runs the risk of losing their kids to state custody should they be found culpable. We can do the same thing in Nigeria. The Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria, for instance, should step up the plate in the areas of counselling, family planning, birth control, etc. The National Orientation Agency has a role to play too, especially in mounting enlightenment campaigns. Government at all levels equally has to lead from the front: there should be in place some kind of Marshall Plan, a short and long-term plan for our children as we plan for the future. Religious bodies and organizations, NGO’s, civil society, everybody, in deed, has a role to play in safeguarding our children because our children are our future.
Dept of English