Much has been said and done to give the girl child her voice in the Kenyan society. Groups and activists all over the country come together with many projects that are all aimed at helping the girl child to unshackle the chains keeping her down. But the boy child has been left behind in all this.
The natural belief in African societies is that men are leaders, strong, providers and defenders of family and hence they are okay and do not need to be given a voice by anybody.
But the girl child is seen as the weaker gender prone to many vulnerable situations and incapable of defending herself, hence the need to give her a voice. As this has been happening, the boy child has been falling prey to the challenges of modern life such as drugs and too much expectations from the society.
For instance, the boy child is not supposed to cry even when in great pain since this is seen as a sign of weakness and subjects one to ridicule from the society. A parent in African society is always heard telling the boy; “don’t cry like a girl”.
While the girl child is enjoying this attention and coming out of her shell, the boy is now an endangered species and is fighting to be treated better.
For instance, it becomes headline news in the local media when a 15-year old girl from Maasai or any community drops out of school due to early pregnancy or marriage, yet there is no concern at all when a 10-year old boy from the same community drops out of school to herd cattle.
The perception is that the girl child is said to lag behind in most things mostly due to our African culture that portrays her an inferior being, hence the attention she has been receiving. In every field, a man is considered superior so that qualifying standards are lowered so that women could fit in.
The Narok Community Policy Officer, Joseph Karume says that women issues were given more prominence since statistics have proved that men were ahead of this gender in many issues including education, careers and property ownership among others.
But Karume says that the boy child in Narok County has been neglected and the girl child is slowly overtaking him as attention continues to turn on her. Hence, the need to also turn some attention on the boy child so that he is not found lagging behind in future.
“In Maasai culture, the boy child is brought up to bottle up every bit of anguish and pain. A boy child should show no emotion which is seen as a sign weakness,” he adds.
The Maasai believe that a man should keep his issues to himself. If he speaks about it to his mother or sisters or to anybody, his peers will perceive him as weak.
“Naturally, the female gender express themselves better than the male gender and maybe that is why they (female gender) are receiving attention,” he says.
Karume further adds that people believe that the boy child has the strength to handle challenges and hardship of life, the strength to face all menace of humanity.
He noted that majority of the male children in Maasai land spend most of their time looking after their family cattle deep in the wilderness, many at the expense of education.
“Many cases of defilement against a male or a boy are not reported, for instance, but the crime is taking place. Boys are defiled nowadays and they don’t report as the matters are resolved within the community by elders. The boy child then soon succumbs to trauma due to this negligence,” he said.
The Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) in Narok recently opened a boys` only children home in Narok town in order to save boys who have been neglected by their parents and the society.
The Director of this children’s home, Peter Gitahi says that the home was opened to save the vulnerable boys who have been abandoned by the society. The home works hand in hand with Narok children’s office who deliver the children to them.
He adds that the centre currently has a total of 26 boys, majority of them from the Maasai community, the youngest being five years old and the oldest is in college. The home is funded fully by the church and other well-wishers who visit them.
Gitahi says that they finance the boys’ education from primary to tertiary level. They also have some co-curricular activities that helps to build the children’s talent. “Every Friday, we invite a speaker who talks to the boys and counsels them to overcome their previous experiences,” he adds.
He gave an example of a child they rescued in 2010 at Suswa. Emanuel Karani, an orphan who joined class one at 11 years. He used to look after his relative’s cattle since he was three years old in order to secure a meal by the end of the day. Karani finished class eight last year at the age of 18 years and was enrolled at Narok polytechnic.
He says that Karani had challenges growing up as he experienced many changes during adolescence as he stated growing beard in upper primary. This affected his education because of the trauma he faced from his fellow students. Gitahi helped the boy by counseling him and he was able to do better in the polytechnic.
Gitahi is now urging Narok residents to treat both boy child and girl child equally. He says parents should not neglect a boy child following perception that boy child can withstand all challenges in life.
“No child should be neglected at all. They all deserve an equal chance in life,” he says.
According to the Chairman of Maasai council of elders, Kasaina Ole Esho, it is indeed true that the boy child is slowly being forgotten. “In his community, everyone is fighting for girl empowerment but the boys are forgotten,” he says.
Ole Esho says that many boys spent their time herding cattle as Morans instead of being in school.
Morans are Maasai young men who abandon their homes and live in the forest or bushes for several months where they train on how to protect the society and learn more about the culture of their people. While in their training grounds, they feed on wild fruits and animals.
Nevertheless, the practice is diminishing as many young men prefer to pursue education to higher levels rather than waste time in the bushes.
“If we don’t educate our boys, we will end up with a community without a future. Men are leaders and if we don’t fight for the boy child, we will end up with a community with uneducated leaders and this will drag us behind in development,” he says.
Ole Esho is advising the Morans to stick to the modern law as their culture is dynamic and changing with times.
Recently, seven Maasai Morans escaped death sentence narrowly after a Narok Court agreed to an out of court settlement for the offense of robbery with violence they had committed.
The Morans who are normally armed with a rungu and spear had been accused of violently robbing another person of money. To them, it was normal to take money from people they meet from the streets but because times are changing, they were charged in court.
The Kenyan Constitution as well as local statutes of the law provide for protection of Children’s rights. Article 53 of the Constitution provides for the rights of children to free and compulsory basic education, basic nutrition, shelter and health care, protection from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices and all forms of violence, inhuman treatment, punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour and right to parental care and protection, which includes equal responsibility of the mother and father to provide for the child, whether they are married to each other or not.
It prohibits detention of children except as a measure of last resort, and provides that if a child was to be detained, they should be held for the shortest period of time.
The Constitution also provides that a child’s interest should be of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.
The government should monitor implementation of the said laws and policies, and develop localized strategies to address challenges affecting the boy child.
By Mabel Keya-Shikuku /Alex Tanui