Child waywardness is increasingly becoming an issue of social concern as our society evolve and becomes more urbanised. Urbanisation and its attendant parenting is becoming challenging for most families to handle. The pressures of having to provide for your family is taking a toll on most men who have families as society develops and the demands of childcare also becomes very daunting. When such demands outstrips the strength of some men they tend to shirk their responsibilities and children of such fate become wayward.
A wayward child is “a child having a status arbitrarily defined by statute in some states, usually being under a stated age, habitually associating with vicious or immoral persons, or growing up in circumstances likely to lead to criminal activity or wilful disobedience of parental or other lawful authority and therefore subject to custodial care and protection for his or her own welfare” (www.merriam-webster).
One characteristic of wayward children is that they are normally homeless and are found on the streets and are involved in all manner activities for survival either legal or illegal. According to an article titled “Streetism is the Global Trend or the Flipside of the Developing World”, published on www.world-science, it stated that “it is estimated that about 100 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 live on the streets in less developed world countries” (www.world-science.com).
Since most countries in Africa are considered developing, it would be very appropriate to examine some figures on street children. It is estimated that 30 million street children are found on the African continent and more than 90,000 children are found on the street of Ghana. As at June 2011, 33,000 street children were recorded in Ghana but in 2014, the number increased to 90,000 which represent more than a 100 percentage increase (Ghanaweb.com).
This astronomical increase is reflective of the fact that, there is a gradual breakdown of our family structure especially the shirking of responsibility of most fathers. As society urbanises, the rate of fatherless children also grows. The changes in the family dynamics might be one of the most significant factors in the growth of streetism especially absentee fathers. Some contributing factors to streetism may include death in the family especially death of the father, parental divorce or remarriage, domestic violence among many others. Such drastic changes in the family structure can have significant and emotional impact on a child or children.
Research shows that social vices such as armed robbery, drug-abuse, prostitution and others can be traced to children who started life on the streets. According to a blog www.all4kids.org quoting George W. Bush when he addressed the issue of fatherlessness while in office, said, over the past four decades, fatherlessness has emerged as one of our greatest social problems. We know that children who grow up with absent-fathers can suffer lasting damage. They are more likely to end up in poverty or drop out of school, become addicted to drugs, have a child out of wedlock, or end up in prison.
Fatherlessness is not the only cause of these things, but our nation must recognize it is an important factor. This clearly shows that children who have no fathers normally have a brush with the law and this phenomenon is associated with faithless children who normally roam on the streets. Children who normally have no homes to lay their heads are from homes with either no father at all or an irresponsible or absentee father. All these have affected society because over the years there has been an over reliance or focus on the impacts of mothers on their children.
The National Fatherhood Initiative posit that many people are amazed at the research which shows a nexus between father absence and an increase in juvenile social problems in America including: teen pregnancy, substance and alcohol abuse, poverty, juvenile delinquency, suicide and physical abuse and a host of other distressing social problems. The sad reality is that not only does father absence injure children, it also has an agonizing effect on fathers as well.
Fathers who develop positive relationships with their children or child propel and encourages fathers to lead more productive lives, even in the most difficult of circumstances. There are some things some men wouldn’t do just because they have a child or children. A Fathers actions are sometime measured looking at the consequent effects on their family. In America for example, evidence shows that fathers who write to their children or child once a week have a lower risk of violence in prison and recidivism (committing new offenses after a crime committed in the past) when released. This impacts positively on the child or children of inmates, and goes to show how father contact can change the trend of their childrens lives – even while the father is still in prison. This proves the importance of a fathers relationship with their children. When that relationship is hampered by whatever means, it has consequential effects on their children. More so, absentee fathers who have travelled and keep regular contact with their child or children serve the same purpose as incarcerated fathers. Which means any form of contact between a father and his child or children positively affects children and fathers must try and keep in touch with their kids through whatever means possible. When this happens the incidence of wayward children would subside.
In addition, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US notes, in a study that it conducted looking at the trends of father involvement and larger social challenges. The trends according to the research from 2006 – 2010, showed fewer fathers now live with their children over the period studied. The reasons associated with this unpleasant trend include non-marital childbearing, incarceration, and in relation to Ghana, drug abuse, poverty and sheer irresponsibility on the part of some men and other factors.
In support of the fact, father absence if becoming a global problem, it is estimated that more than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are emotionally absent but physically present. This compounds the problem of fatherlessness. Some kids have fathers who are generally present in person but, the responsibilities they must discharge which connect them to their kids are non-existent. This means being a father is not just being available but being involved in your child’s upkeep, training and development. “If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency” (fathers.com).
The impact of fatherlessness can be seen in our homes, schools, hospitals and prisons, as reflected in the behaviour of fatherless children. In short, fatherlessness is associated with almost every societal ill facing the children of the US and by extension children in similar or same situations.
The father absence phenomenon in America has gotten to crisis level. According to the 2017. U.S. Census Bureau, examining the data involving children living without a biological, step, or adoptive father, it posits that, 19.7 million children, representing more than 1 in 4, live without a father in the home. Consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing American society today. This is the same situation likely to affect Ghana and other developing economies across the globe. The absence of fathers have negative consequential effect on child outcomes thereby being involved in socially unacceptable activities facing countries.
It can be stated without any shred of doubt that, the impact of father-child involvement, also describes how improved involvement of fathers in the lives of their children has been associated with a range of positive outcomes for the children.
In my respectful view, men are becoming endangered species all over the world. Most men die through wars, tribal and ethnic conflicts, gang violence, armed robbery etc. With the few men around, there are irresponsible fathers among them as well. These are major contributing factors to father absence. The time has come for countries across the globe to find some very ingenious ways of helping men become good fathers. The positive impacts of such relationships cannot be overemphasised.
When men become the fulcrum around which the lives of their children revolve, society would benefit from well-balanced children whose characters are socially acceptable and become assets to families, society, country, continent and the world at large.
Another area where father absence affects children especially girls is early pregnancy. “A father’s absence increases a daughter’s risk for early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy, according to a recent long-term research (Allen, 2016). A lot of studies show that girls become sexually active earlier, reach puberty younger and are more likely to get pregnant in their teens if they had an absentee father or father was absent from the home from when they were young (Nowak, 2003). Fathers have a direct impact on the well-being of their children. Girls with involved, respectful fathers see how they should expect men to treat them and are less likely to become involved in violent or unhealthy relationships, writes Jeffrey Rosenberg and W. Bradford Wilcox cited in an article “How Fatherlessness Impacts Early Sexual Activity, Teen Pregnancy, and Sexual Abuse, written by Rob Schwarzwalder and Natasha Tax.
In Ghana teenage pregnancy has become an issue of public concern. The deputy health minister Tina Mensah in May 2019 said “Ghanas high teenage pregnancy and adolescent child bearing rates which stands at 14.2 percent and 66/1000 adolescents respectively, are a great concern to the government of Ghana” (ghanaweb.com). She added that, indeed when the president was inaugurating the National Population Council in March 2019, His Excellency Nana Akufo Addo, lamented the high fertility rate among girls who should ordinarily be in school and charged the National Population Council to work with all the relevant institutions and stakeholders to drastically reduce teenage pregnancy.
The nexus between teenage pregnancy and absentee fathers is well established. In this regard our authorities should begin to put in place measures and policies including legislation that would make men responsible towards their children. This is the only possible way to curb the rise in teenage pregnancy.
Following from this, I caution and counsel ladies who have had kids out of wedlock to allow the father of their child to participate in baby care no matter what issues they have. This is because when women prevent fathers from taking care of their kids, the impact on such children are normally negative and doesn’t augur well for society.
In conclusion, if fatherlessness has gotten to crisis level in America then it means it is a problem everywhere. In Ghana it is estimated the about 90,000 children are street children and that could mean the about 90,000 fathers have shirked their responsibilities.
The surge in reported cases of kidnappings, armed robbery, murders, rape and juvenile crimes in Ghana should serve as a wake call that fatherhood is in crisis and something needs to be done.
I cannot posit that all children who grow up in homes without fathers cannot be wayward but majority of wayward children are from fatherless homes.
With regards to teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, incarceration of children, poor academic grades in school, cohabitation etc. are all mostly associated with kids who grew up in absent father homes.
If we want to reduce wayward children and its attendant social ills, then we should begin a campaign against irresponsible fatherhood. If possible, we should legislate against such men and deal with them accordingly. When we are able to reduce father absenteeism or fatherless homes, we shall automatically reduce child waywardness including streetism, teenage pregnancy and other socially unacceptable behaviours normally exhibited by such children.
D. C. KWAME KWAKYE
GBC, Radio Central
By D. C. KWAME KWAKYE