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While western societies marked the end of childhood at a certain age. In western societies childhood is from birth until one reached the age of majority which differs from country to country. In Africa, children go through various rites of passages before attaining adulthood. Although most African societies practice rite of passages others do not by the marked the end of childhood at a certain age, for example, South Africa and Zimbabwe. According to Unicef (2005) defined childhood as, “a time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their families and extended community of caring adults… space between birth and the attainment of adulthood.
Rite of passage is fundamental to human growth and development. According to Elizabeth Onyii Ezemeke coating Fairchild (1965. P. 262) “Rites of passage are ceremonies which cluster around the great crisis of life, or period of transition from one status to another, notably birth, puberty, marriage, and death”.
These rites were established by African ancestors while they were living in order to link an individual to the community and the spiritual world. They were not to be taken for granted that people automatically grow and develop into responsible, community-oriented adults like what happened in western societies.
In Western societies childhood marked by ages from birth to adolescents. According to Nicola Kirk Patrick(2018), the childhood age range from development and they are plenty stages which child will go through which include, newborn (birth to one month), infancy (1- 12 months) when a child able to control the way their head to moves and ability to sit up with ought support, toddler(1-3 years) when children are beginning to learn more about the world, Preschool (3-5years) children begin to improve their motor skills vocabulary and conversational skills, School Age( 6-12 years) starting to develop secondary sex characteristics typical of their gender, Adolescent ( 13-18 years) it is a period of major change.
In Africa, children go through a series of rites of passages before attaining adulthood. J E. Eberegbulam Njoku (1993), the culture of a child places a priority on the rite of passage. The stages of growth in non-western societies summarized in the main three phases, namely Early initiation, physical stage, and transitional rituals. Early Initiation rites include circumcision, weaning of a toddler, first haircut, teething, wrestling, wearing charms, wearing a girdle, and schooling. Physical growth puberty, sex life, and marriage. When a child has the tendency of exposing his body in public without shame, shows that the child has not reached the age of reasoning. But if he is ashamed while nude, means he reaches the critical stage of adulthood. All these are not rite but they are events that form the various stages of the growth cycle. These stages show that Africans childhood stages were not marked by arbitrarily fixed ages.
Furthermore, while western societies marked the end of childhood at a certain age. In Africa, the movement of an individual through childhood is not marked by arbitrary fixed age but by rites of passage that lacked chronological specificity. In Africa the transition of childhood to adulthood marked by Africa initiate on or the coming of age of a boy or a girl, boys becoming young men and girls becoming young women. The transition period often involves various tests and ordeals many of them are painful. The anthropology assistance professor at Bucknell University Michelle Johnson says, “suffering is part of the development of personhood”. According to Annika S. Hipple, “for the Maasai of East Africa, circumcision represents the beginning of adulthood for both girls and boys. Boys must endure while girls are allowed to show pain. But those who refuse to undergo the procedure cannot marry or bear legitimate children. In Ethiopia, Harmar boys complete the jumping of bulls, a ritual in which they leap over the backs of 20-40 bulls in order to demonstrate their manhood. Those who didn’t pass through oncoming age will be regarded as children or unclear since they failed their test, they will not be allowed to attend community meetings, giving ideas or going to wars with other. While in western societies they marked the end of childhood at the age of 18 to 21 years. Dr. Christa Clacke contends that Western societies are believing that the shift of individuals from childhood to adulthood happens between eighteen and twenty-one. According to Annika S. Hipple, in western societies, the boundary between childhood and adulthood is blurred. In America when one reached eighteen years, they are allowed to vote, make a decision, marry, and join the military. In conclusion, while western societies mark the end of childhood at a certain age, in Africa the movement of an individual through childhood is not marked by rites of passage that lack chronological specificity.
However, although some parts of Africa are still practicing rites of passage in some parts of Africa they are no longer practicing but following legal system which sees the movement of childhood and adulthood through ages. Most African countries and adopted the United Nations Convention on rights of children’s, convention define a child as any human been under the age of 18. It acknowledges the primary role of parents and family in the care and protection of children. For example, South Africa ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child(UNCRC) on 16 June 1995. Apart from UNCRC, Africans adopted the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which adopted in 1990 and come into force in 1999. ACRC defines a child in Articale2 as a child means every human being below the age of 18 years. Countries that ratify the charter are Zimbabwe, South Africa Botswana to mention a few. Also in many African country constitutions, for example, the Zimbabwe constitution (section 18) and National Orphan Care policy define a child as any person below the age of 18years.
In conclusion, although Western societies start to mark the end of childhood at a certain age before Africa that doesn’t mean African countries don’t do the same. Most African countries adopted the United Nations on Child Rights Convention which specifies the end of childhood at a certain age. However, they are still countries still practicing the rite of passage in which childhood is not marked by arbitrarily fixed ages but by rites of passage such as Somali and Malawi.
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