This study sets out to investigate the challenges African children face throughout developmental transitions in the pathways of growing up to healthy adulthood in most African settings with particular reference to Cameroon. The transitional periods are tasks related and effective transitions characterised by effective demonstrations of skills and competences in the performance of specific tasks engaged in through socialization process.
Challenges for African Children
Accordingly, the paper identifies the challenges faced by children. These include, redefining the African personhood and process of child development, poverty, malnutrition, changes in educational systems, poor access to quality education, child labour, conflict and war, HIV/AIDS and access to quality health care. In this regard approximately 20,000 children die every day because of poverty. Despite improvements made in education, quality and equity challenges are manifested in terms of disparities in gender, regional location, minority groups, pastoral and nomadic communities and the poor. Furthermore, it is estimated that 41 per cent of all children between 5 and 14 years old involved in economic activity. Participation rates of children in the labour force are higher in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly half the children in the 10-14 years age group are working. Africa is a conflict-prone region with three out of 10 African children living in fragile, conflict-affected regions or countries, and an estimated 12 million children internally displaced throughout the continent. It is estimated that about 7000 deaths in Africa are AIDS related, which leave children abandoned as orphans living in misery and illerate.
Strengths of African Children
Despite the challenges faced by children, African children remain resilient with cognitive, social and personality strengths enabling them to reach a healthy adulthood. Cognitively, African children develop contextually important skills at times at the expense of academic ones; they have substantial practical skills that go unrecognized in academic tests; Africentric conceptions of intelligence may be different from Eurocentric conception. Socially, peer mentoring and social interconnectedness with significant elders in a collective social orientation are important strengths possessed by children. Thus the cognitive and social strengths of African children develop in them resilience, enabling them to overcome the multiple challenges faced.
Cultural Perspectives Enabling Children Reach Healthy Adulthood
There are other cultural agencies of socialization that compound with the strengths of children to enable them reach a healthy adulthood. Here the family also plays an important role as an agency of primary care. Family processes are core factors in determining whether or not children do well in emergency situations. Families are the basic unit of society, and the well-being of children is closely linked to that of their parents. Whatever the structure, in most cases, families provide the best environment for meeting the needs of children. Attachment to care givers is one of the fundamental building blocks of child development and determinants of psychosocial well-being. Usually these pose value conflicts because of differentials between parents and caregiver’s values. Besides the family, the entire culture is a mediating influence in emergencies. This process helps re-establish the capacity of not only the family but also the community to assist its children and youths when found in difficult situations. Parental and community supports, since are based on the beliefs and value systems of the people greatly strength local capacities to enable those in need have support. Through cultural indigenous knowledge systems like folklore, indigenous games/play songs, interwoven curriculum and rites of passage children are socialised into responsible behaviours and are adequately prepared for adulthood.
The study was carried out amongst 15 ethnic groups of the West, North West, and South West and Littoral regions of Cameroon. An ethnographic research design was chosen for the study whereby children and their parents were studied in their natural cultural environment. Using a purposeful sampling technique, 79 parents, 32 children and 32 adolescents participated in the study. The study employed both qualitative (focus group discussions with children and adolescents) and quantitative (questionnaire for parents) methods data collection and analysis. Descriptive statistics and a systematic process of thematic analysis were used to analyse both quantitative and qualitative data respectively.
According to the findings of the study, 89.87% of parents indicated that poverty was the highest challenge faced by children. This was followed by High rate of illiteracy 86.08%, family conflicts 79.75%, malnutrition 74.68%, disease affliction 67.09%, natural hazards/ disasters 62.03%, negative cultural beliefs 59.49% and loss of parent/ parents 53.16%. Only a minority of parents (27.85%) indicated community conflicts, insecurity/wars as a major challenge faced by children.
Furthermore, parents and children were positive and indicated that African children had strengths such as multi-tasking 94.94%, resilience 89.87%, social competence with peers 88.61%, problem solving 87.34%, pro-social behaviours 82.28%, respect 78.48% social interconnectedness 75.95% and creativity 70.89%.
To add, family values, common initiative groups, churches, non-governmental organizations, peer group, beliefs, knowledge systems, social welfare services, mass media and rites of passage were seen cultural perspectives enabling children reach healthy adulthood.
The implications of the present study is that though African children face enormous challenges, the findings equally reveal that African children possess cognitive, social and personality strengths as well as social support services that if well exploited they will reach effective adulthood. The family for any African child is a very important. No adult African move completely away from family. Despite the challenges and adversities faced by these children, their ingenuity, resilience and cultural assets play important role in mediating positive outcomes so they can participate effectively to ensure their inputs and optimize the development of skills, competences and attitudes. Hence, children can be able to mitigate challenges at different stage as they transit to healthy adulthood. These have implications for their personal epistemologies as they move through the different transitions in the developmental pathways. The study draws data from both quantitative and qualitative research approaches to substantiate the discussions with support from relevant explanatory theories and literature
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