The 2020 International Day of the Girl Child celebrations in Zimbabwe were recently held on a sad note, with videos of some schoolgirls clad in their uniforms, performing sexually suggestive dances in their classrooms with their peers cheering them on.
Scenes of boys in school uniforms were also trending on social media, with some school children openly confessing that the scenes that went viral on social media were just a tip of the iceberg.
As the world commemorates the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, these images leave a terribly sour taste in the mouth, with parents and guardians wondering if the school is still a safe place for their children’s moral guidance and rectitude.
Indeed, as they say, “kids shall always be kids” and should be left to play, learn and explore real life experiences that would prepare them for their adult life and as responsible citizens in their future daily lives.
It is in this instance that things like playing house and the numerous games that most of our generation used to play like hunting rabbits, trapping birds and laying snares and craft work of various kinds during cattle herding, helped to shape and mold our present day life which is invariably characterised by moral fortitude, hard work and perseverance.
It was also not considered out of place during our time to see a parent, any parent other than your own, meting out punishment or dishing instant justice for any errant behaviour or any action deemed inappropriate.
Hence the famous Shona adage: “Mwana ndewe munhu wese.”
But with the advent of the current globalized world and the continued assault on the influence and role of the extended family system, coupled with the fading influence of our highly valued cultural way of life that made African communities a unique feature, the future of our children seems to be hanging on the edge of a cliff.
What with the pervasive technological advancement, riding at the back of the fourth industrial revolution and the seemingly unlimited access to the pervasive and the various diverse media platforms.
Indeed, our children are now being exposed to more varied and potentially damaging influences.
It, therefore, becomes imperative that as parents and guardians we should be seen to be taking centre stage to provide a moral compass at the household level if we are to salvage the little that is left in our children’s moral fibre.
For, given the fractured and disjointed nature of most pillars of society’s social support structures, it becomes incumbent upon parents not only to become appropriate role models, but also to be actively involved in inculcating a sense and culture of responsibility amongst our children.
I always want to refer to the rich saying in our Shona culture that “Gavi rinobva kuma svuuriro”, literally translated that the buck comes from the tree, which is the home.
This begs the question, whether or not as parents we are providing a home environment that is conducive for children’s moral guidance and rectitude.
As somebody noted years back, the home was a place for refuge, security and a haven for family stability.
The home was further a place where people could flee from trials, troubles and difficulties of life. It also served as a traditional place of togetherness.
Enter the 21st century, most homes have become a battle ground, and in some cases simply becoming a place to eat and sleep where moral decadency and degeneracy take centre stage.
Another sad feature of today’s homes is that many families have become fragmented with a shocking rise in the number of single parent households and in some cases children being left to raise themselves.
Indeed, the phenomenal change in the nature and structure of the 21st century homes has affected many parents’ ability to make the home a healthy nurturing place for their children.
For, whilst the home used to be a safe sanctuary for children’s upbringing, all that seems to have drastically changed due to the impact and influence of technological advancement where excessive violence, explicit sex and a total lack of decency and morality have invaded many homes with the resultant collapse of moral values
More often than not, some parents are openly found cheering or encouraging children to indulge in conduct and behaviour that under normal circumstances should either be discouraged, forbidden or out rightly condemned, a conduct that is detrimental to children’s moral growth and development.
There is also sadly a category of parents who are quick to blame everything and everybody for the insalubrious conduct and behaviour of their children.
For, it is either the teachers at school who are accused of all sorts for the bad behaviour of children; their peers from broken families or the media which serves as convenient scape goats.
Not that these mediums are perfect either.
In fact, it is now an open secret that the school environment is no longer conducive, unlike during our days when teachers were perfect role models; where you would find the teacher following up to the pupils homestead for failing to attend classes; where elder brothers and sisters were pillars of support and strength whom as young boys, we could look up to as role models.
But as things stand, some teachers have, in some cases, become a wretched lot.
In some instances, it is not uncommon to find teachers in beer drinking binges with their pupils.
Sexual gender based violence
There are also stories of teachers being used by perverts to recruit school girls for the lucrative, but damaging commercial sex industry.
On the other hand, the brothers and sisters whom we used to look up to as role models have now become purveyors of moral decadence and criminal conduct, with young girls as old as 12 years being lured into apprenticeship in the oldest profession of prostitution.
Furthermore, boys are not spared either as they are constantly exposed to the thrills and joys of mbanje smoking, musombodhiya and other illicit drugs that are readily available at almost every street corner.
As for some members of the law enforcement agents, they have not been helpful either as some have become willing and enthusiastic guests to the party by condoning such anti-social practices affecting children.
It is this sad state of affairs that has left many children exposed and vulnerable to a plethora of vices that have become associated with the 21st technological advancement.
Indeed, as parents and guardians, we need to do self-introspection, hold a mirror, look at ourselves carefully and start asking ourselves serious questions about our role in shaping a future that we would be proud of.
We also need to interrogate ourselves as parents and guardians in terms of our behaviour and conduct towards our children.
Firstly, we need to ask ourselves whether we are the role models that our children and future generations would be proud of.
Secondly do we possess the appropriate parenting skills that would serve as a moral compass for our children and future generations?
Thirdly, to what extent are we involved as parents and guardians in our children’s online life, given the pervasiveness of the technological age that has become the everyday life of our children in view of the prevalence of online publications?
Furthermore, parental involvement in the children’s online life becomes more imperative, in view of the mushrooming of predators who are daily posting videos that are unpalatable and inappropriate for the minors’ viewing, particularly as they relate to sex, nudity, violence and other nefarious activities.
Indeed, we all appreciate and acknowledge the role and importance of technology and as a prerequisite for functional literacy.
However, the impact of technological advancement can be devastating if children are left to explore the world without the parents and guardians’ active involvement.
In this instance, subtle methods to screen and monitor on line publications that children can be exposed to become mandatory.
There is also need to check any traces of behaviour change through a casual chat with their peers, coupled with application of positive reinforcement mechanisms that can go a long way to incentivise good behaviour, without necessarily infringing on the child’s right to privacy.
Indeed, technological advancement has taken the 21st century by storm, a factor that has moved governments the world over and our government too which has since come up with the Cyber Security Bill to fight the scourge of cybercrime in both the social and economic spheres.
For issues to do with cyber bullying have been cited, affecting some people’s reputation, standing and in respect of children even their performance in class.
It can, therefore, be argued that the coming on board of the Cyber Security Bill is a welcome development in the face of growing incidences of popularisation of commercial sex through the screening of nude videos and the resultant sexual exploitation and abuse of girls by predators who lure girls into prostitution and pornography.
There also is the real and growing threat of scum bugs where young boys and girls have fallen victim to online dodgy investments, deals resulting in loss of pocket money or bus fare or even school fees.
As alluded to earlier on, until and unless parents and guardians take an active role and interest in the children’s online life, the nation is faced with a real crisis of a lost generation, given the extent and magnitude of the influence exerted by the media, particularly the notorious and unregulated social media.
There is also the real threat of the potentially damaging and pervasive peer pressure, coupled with the influence of some unscrupulous relatives and a host of other morally bankrupt social misfits who are in the habit of posting unpalatable or highly inappropriate videos on social media.
Indeed, the video that recently went viral on social media of schoolgirls engaging in a plethora of anti-social behaviours and activities pricked the conscience of many a parent, given what many parents are going through in this economic environment just to enable a child to go to school.
This calls for a concerted effort to activate all social support systems and structures, ranging from the traditional family structures, the media, institutional support structures and the local authorities.
However, in majority of cases, local authorities have been found wanting in so far as their mandate to provide recreational facilities is concerned.
For during our days, we had such facilities as libraries, boys’ clubs, swimming pools and almost every sporting facility at all such centres, with such activities and facilities serving to keep most of our generation away from bad influence.
It was also through such facilities and institutions that character was formed, discipline instilled, a sense of responsibility inculcated and strong personalities developed.
These facilities also served as the embryo and hub of morality, good behaviour and as a vehicle for behaviour change and modification
As Nelson Mandela once said: It takes a community to build a child.
But for societies to realise the Mandela dream, there is now need, more than ever before, to develop and strengthen social support systems and community parenting structures that guarantees parental involvement in child safety and related welfare programmes.