Children will often run to their parents as the first people in whom they can seek refugee. Since parents participate in bringing these children into the world, in the same way, they have an obligation of protecting them. Daily, we read and watch in horror the pain and trauma of the victims and their parents. And yes, we do shed our share of tears. And when you are a parent, panic or paranoia takes over and all you can think about is how you can protect your child from such monstrous acts.
The law provides for this in the children’s Act. This clearly spells out the rights of the child. This includes, giving them education, clothing, medication, and others.
The question we are afraid to tackle is: who protects our children when we are not with them? In the pre-colonial days, our children were always protected-maybe not from wild animals and the elements or disease, but they were safe among adults.
Whether, with parents, relatives or even strangers, children enjoyed absolute care, nurturing, acceptance and protection. As early as 40 or so years ago, children could still roam the valleys and hills in search for childhood thrills without a care in the world. There was a clear understanding in the African tradition set-up that the child symbolized the future.
But the most important is the fact that every one understood that the child was everyone’s responsibility. When one became an adult, one graduated into a responsible figure. In Rwanda adults could still be guided and counseled by their parents.
This graduation into the adulthood did not just happen overnight. Young girls and boys were educated and guided in the preparation for more demanding adult roles. This preparation usually culminated in a symbolic initiation. Sex education took as early as pre-adolescence and was conducted by older, mature and respectable role models. Of course, parents as well as the whole adult population were expected to be role models.
Children are very impressionable. They soak in what they see from adults. They may not listen much, but they see every thing and imitate most of it.
In the traditional set-up, there was a mutual respect between the young and the old. Adults had to watch their behavior in the midst of the children of the same zeal as the young did in the midst of adults.
There were no neglected orphans, just because when a child’s biological parents died, the society immediately adopted him or her. The children too, understood that every adult was a parent and therefore accorded them due respect. Even times of war, protection of children were a priority.
Today life is dynamic and as such, things are bound to change with time. We hastily discarded our “backward” traditions and forgot to replace them with progressive principles.
Parents no longer talk with young people about sex or other things that will prepare them for adulthood. We to remember that we are the ones to teach these lessons to our children. Not the media or peers or teachers. A wise person once said that the more things change the more they remain the same. The role of parents is one factor that remains constant despite changing times.
When these same parents abuse this sacred duty, in such a traumatizing manner, then something is terribly wrong and needs drastic countering measures. It is worse when we do nothing about this abuse of sigh and move on with our lives.
We are not much different from the culprits of that crime. Abraham Lincoln captured this aptly when he said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men”. A society that continues to sit and watch while its future is destroyed is not only hopeless but also very sick.
Indeed, such a society is a hazard to human survival. The first step towards healing is the understanding that it is our responsibility to protect all children, not just our own. We need to start reporting the culprits who hurt children because we know who they are. They live among us.
Many times, they are the fathers, uncles and neighbors of our children. Let us speak out loud as parents, adults and citizens with a vision for the better future Rwanda.