The recent jailing by a Kisumu court of a 24-year-old woman for defiling a 16-year-old boy brought into sharp focus critical issues affecting children.
Defilement being a major problem that children face, the case created a buzz online and dominated the national discourse.
The fact that a woman was jailed for defiling a boy added to the intrigue. The ruling was a welcome move for boy-child rights crusaders, who have in the past opined that the male offspring has been forgotten as more attention is shown on girls, while other people felt it was too harsh on the woman. Once again, the boy-girl biases and perceptions came into play.
Hence, the theme for this year’s Day of the African Child, ‘No child is left behind’, was apt for the June 16 occasion.
In Kenya, there is a growing feeling that, after many years of focusing on girls, the boys have been left behind. That has been evidenced by widespread alcoholism and increased school dropouts, leading to a re-think on whether the advancement by girls was at the expense of boys.
However, I appreciate the efforts made at the girl-child empowerment after years of gender imbalance and inequity.
In the past two years, there has been much discussion of the boy-child, with some people even alleging that he has been neglected. Six out of the 10 best students in the KCSE examination last year were girls, eliciting heated debate on the place of boys in the country.
I would like to advocate for our focus on the child — not the girl or the boy, just the child. Boys and girls each have unique challenges — societal, culturalisation and biological, among others.
We should not have girls missing school because of menstruation. Unfortunately, a 2016 Human Rights Watch report indicated that one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa was likely to miss classes during her monthly period — close to 20 per cent of the school year. In this case, yes, we need to focus on the girl-child and even give schoolgirls free sanitary towels.
On the other hand, the ‘Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014’ report has worrying statistics: More boys were likely to die before their fifth birthday as compared to girls (44 versus 37 deaths per 1,000 live births).
When it comes to education, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that fewer boys than girls complete primary school education (71 per cent female and 73 per cent, respectively). That shows interventions on retaining boys in class is equally important to keeping girls in school.
It is important to look at children from an equity point of view.
We need to place equal value to both male and female, in their uniqueness and differences. This will go a long way in changing perceptions about children, even at birth, and enable us to look at children exactly as that: Children.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka said: “Achieving gender equality is about disrupting the status quo — not negotiating it.” It is time to disrupt the status quo and look at children at par and not have any child superior to the other.
A child is a child. Let us have interventions for both girls and boys — based on their uniqueness, differences and challenges.
Ms Mwende is a social scientist. [email protected]