Commentaries | Aug 14,2021
Jan 18 , 2020
By Eden Sahle
Ethiopia has been grappling with the deeply rooted problem of seeing children merely as a source of income. It is not only those parents on the streets but also at home.
Every time I ask many parents why they chose to have children, their answer baffles me.
“Because that is what is expected of a married couple as well as to create a long-term and sustainable economic support in old age,” they reiterate.
This alarming state of selfishness is deeply entrenched in many families. This is not to discount the many couples that make the decision to start a family after preparing for the financial burden and make sacrifices to care for the children they bring into the world. Having children is a monumental and, often, a pleasing decision that needs to be supported by a great vision and preparation.
Children from non-supporting families face higher disadvantages in many areas of their development, including in academic performance. Even in adulthood, the problem of their family circumstances overwhelms them, prohibiting them from investing in themselves. Poverty adversely affects children’s life opportunities and wellbeing in terms of physical, emotional, social and cognitive abilities.
Parental irresponsibility has devastating, long-lasting and generational impacts on children and their families. Children enter poverty by virtue of their family’s financial situation, which they are often powerless to alter and are also expected to carry it for life.
Just like in all other African nations, having children is a symbol of status, respect and family’s way of expanding their support systems. One of the main reason’s poverty is generational is because families keep tacking on their problems onto their children in the hopes that they will address it.
Older children, especially women, get the burden of caring for their parents and younger siblings. They are informal parents enduring both financial and domestic workloads. Instead of focusing on what they want, they are forced to carry on an overwhelming family problem. The consequence of this is multidimensional - damaging the children and the country as a whole because talents are being destroyed and wasted at the hands of families. This is the complex reality that is keeping families and the country in a vicious circle of deep poverty.
I know a family friend who is a medical doctor. He is the firstborn of a large family. He has been the breadwinner for his parents and seven siblings who had been depending on him since childhood. His brothers and sisters, who were comfortable with his support, never considered it their responsibility to share the burden unfairly placed on his shoulders.
An awful brawl broke out in the family when he told them that he is going to marry and leave them financially independent. Suddenly, his family realised their support system is going dry and felt betrayed. They were hard-pressed to forgive their son, who was by that point in his late 40s.
This is a common thread running through many Ethiopian families. The fate of the children is inevitably tied to that of the family. They fail to excel in life and academia, because they did not have the time and the resources to get on through with their own lives.
This has consequences on transforming societies and economic developments. Potentials are curtailed both in childhood and adulthood, diminishing the nation’s pool of talent and dilapidating the nation's ability to care for the poor. The fact that millions of children and adults are denied their potential should alarm everyone.
Supporting families is vital only to an extent. It should not come at the expense of crushing individuals’ ambitions, spirits and aspirations. Giving help is a morally rewarding act that should solely be done willingly. It should not be forced onto anyone.
Ultimately having a rightful and healthy attitude about children and adult family members will help families to pursue their lives. This can happen by creating awareness at the family and societal level. It should be made evident that everyone should have a rightful and fair distribution of responsibilities.
It is just as important to ensure adequate social protection for children. This has long been one of the priorities for international organisations such as UNICEF. If the government has sufficient will, it is obvious that a helping hand is there.
It is whether or not Ethiopia addresses poverty and transforms society that depends on this. It will otherwise be hard to reach the potential of the large segment of the Ethiopian population.
PUBLISHED ON Jan 18,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1029]
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