1.11 Answers to activities

Activity 1.3: Childhood in East Africa

  1. Some possible issues you could have listed include: ritualised circumcision ceremonies for boys; shared responsibility for children across communities; expectations that children will obey their elders; widespread use of corporal punishment to impose discipline; importance attached to naming ceremonies.
  2. Some possible differences include: expectations that girls will play a considerable role in contributing to domestic chores and child care; boys being responsible for herding the cattle; differences in the rites of passages towards adulthood for girls and boys; greater freedoms for boys than for girls; girls being married at an earlier age than boys.
  3. Changes that are taking place in childhoods across East Africa might include: more children now attending school; greater access to alternative sources of information and aspiration through the internet and social media, leading to reduced influence of family and communities; weakening of the status of elders in the community.

These changing understandings and experiences of childhood are important to be aware of. They have significant influence on how adults treat children and how children respond. As a health worker, you need to be aware of and think about how your personal experiences, culture, religion, context and beliefs shape your view and treatment of children. Some of your views may be in children’s best interests while others may not. Questioning your own assumptions and attitudes can help you work out whether your personal views and decisions are promoting or neglecting a child’s well-being. They will affect, for example, how you as a health worker respond to a child who refuses treatment, who requests contraception or an HIV test, or who wants to have a say in the choice of treatment.

Activity 1.4: Dependence, vulnerability and resilience in African childhoods

  1. Neither the boys nor the girls in the photographs are recognised as fully dependent. Indeed, they are contributing to their families or communities in different ways. The girls are taking responsibility for the care of younger siblings. The boy and girl are working on the land, contributing to the local agricultural economy. However, it is also possible that these children are also acknowledged as dependents within their families and provided with the care, food, shelter and emotional support they need. They may also be attending school when not contributing to their families. By sending their children to school, parents or caregivers are acknowledging their status as children, entitled to an education and to be provided with the necessary care and support to enable them to access that education.
  2. The children may be vulnerable to harm if they are expected to undertake demanding work that is damaging to their health and well-being or interfering with their right to education. It is not the expectation that they contribute to the family economy that is in itself harmful. It is the extent of that expectation and its impact on the child that can render them vulnerable to harm. Children’s bodies are less developed than those of adults and they need more rest, more sleep and less strenuous physical demands. They are, for example, more vulnerable to the chemicals or pesticides that may be used in farming. In addition, children need and are entitled to have the opportunity to play. This is a very important part of their childhood and their development. Apart from attending school they need to have time for homework and to get sufficient rest and sleep to enable them to study effectively. If the hours they are expected to work are too high, and the nature of that work is too onerous, children will be vulnerable to harm.
  3. Many factors may contribute to children’s resilience. They may be living in loving and caring families, and supported by a stable and cohesive local community. For many children, working with their families and taking responsibility for younger siblings can provide them with a strong sense of self-esteem. This is particularly the case where their contribution is highly valued within their local community. Factors that might mitigate against resilience would be, for instance, if girls felt their contribution was less valued than that of boys, if their participation in the work was overshadowed by threats of violence, or if their health was being damaged by their participation.

    In other words, it is not the activity of working as a child that contributes to children’s vulnerability or resilience. It is the context in which it takes place that determines whether it constitutes a risk to the child or serves to enhance its well-being. Factors such as the hours worked, its perceived value to the community, the opportunities allowed for education and play, and the overall care and protection of the child will all influence vulnerability and resilience.

1.10 Self-assessment questions

2 Child development