MASERU – Parenting is one of the toughest domestic duties that, unfortunately, comes with no manual to give parents a cue on how to raise their children. Parenting or child-rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. It refers to the intricacies of raising a child and not exclusively to the biological relationship.
It therefore tosses parents into the deep end because as soon as they start having children, they learn as they go in the challenging parenting journey. But the challenge becomes even more insurmountable when children are forced by circumstances to abandon their childhood and step into the shoes of their either deceased or misplaced parents. Normally the older child is the one who is forced to take over the role of parents to keep the family together in the absence of the parents either because of death or unemployment.
When this occurs, thoughts of playing with their peers, weekend outings with friends, and sporting activities are replaced with the burden of finding ways to put food on the table and foot the bills. Children under such circumstances are forced to manage household logistics and make difficult decisions while dealing with their own anxiety, grief and personal challenges.
As much as reasons of children parenting their siblings may differ, at the age of 13 and in Grade Eight, Mpho*’s dilemma is the unemployment that forced her mother out of the country leaving the responsibility of parenting her two children on Mpho’s shoulders. But, to make matters worse, one of her younger sisters is on anti-retroviral treatment. Abject poverty and hunger pushed Mpho’s mother to take up employment in the neighbouring South Africa as a domestic worker, leaving her young children under the care of her elder daughter.
Mpho says their mother normally sends them money every month-end to cover household needs and pay rent as well as their school fees. But the young family’s biggest challenge is that more often than not, the monthly stipend they receive from their migrant labourer mother is normally insufficient to last them the entire month. This forces them to rely on hand-outs from neighbours in exchange for doing small odd jobs for them such as laundry, gardening and other house chores.
The three girls cannot seek solace from any family member as they do not have relatives in Maseru – their family originates from Qacha’s Nek. The girls grew up without a father whom they never met, and their mother raised them with the assistance of their grandmother. Their mother left Qacha’s Nek a few years ago and came to settle in Maseru by herself in search of a job. Her three daughters remained in Qacha with her own mother while she struggled to make ends meet in the capital city.
Because her mother was too old and wearied to properly take care of the children on her own, she sent for them to join her in Maseru. But when her search for a better-paying job proved to be futile, she migrated to SA where she hurriedly secured work. As bold and perky as Mpho seems, there is however a deep seeded sadness in her eyes fueled by the lack of enough to eat. Her marks at school are also not appealing owing to the load she already has to carry on her shoulders at her age. It goes without saying that she does not get adequate time to study and sometimes she misses classes to take her HIV positive sister to the clinic for treatment.
“Taking care of everyone at home is tough business for me. Sometimes I am forced to seek assistance and advise from neighbours. “While our mother is supportive, she only manages to come home during long public holidays as she cannot afford to make regular trips to Lesotho because of her small income which she has to reserve for us. “She always tells us that it is better if she sends us the money so that we buy food, pay rent and school fees instead of her spending it on transport to come home,” she bravely says.
The three girls are not getting any financial or social assistance from anywhere and their mother pays for Mpho’s high school education while her younger sisters attend free primary school. Since she started looking after her younger sisters in 2017, Mpho’s life has changed tremendously. She no longer socialises with her peers as her life outside the classroom is reserved specifically for scrambling for food.
The weekends are strictly reserved for the small family’s laundry and doing odd jobs for neighbours. As prudent and well organised as Mpho appears to be, inside she is just a simple girl with an innate pain fueled by the lack of adequate food in the house she shares with her younger sisters. She is, however, an incredible child with an amazing foresight and way matured for her age.
She does not live for the moment and competently looks after the welfare of her sisters, especially the youngest who is HIV positive. A World Vision report of 2011 on children’s rights in Lesotho shows that children’s rights are protected under law in Lesotho. It notes that the government has ratified a number of international instruments, which protect the rights of children, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 138 on the minimum age for employment and ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour.
The objectives of Lesotho’s Children’s Protection and welfare Act (2011) are to extend, promote and protect the rights of children as defined in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child, the 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of other international instruments, protocols, standards and rules on the protection and welfare of children to which Lesotho is a signatory.
The Act notes that every child has a right to live with their parents and grow up in a caring and peaceful environment unless it is proved in court that living with their parents shall lead to significant harm to the child.
“A parent or guardian has a responsibility, whether imposed by law or otherwise, towards the child, including the responsibility to protect the child from neglect, discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation, exposure to physical and moral hazards and oppression; provide good guidance, care, assistance and maintenance for the child to ensure his survival and development,’’ reads the Act.
It also notes that a parent or guardian should ensure that during temporary absence, the child shall be cared for by a competent person, exercise joint primary responsibility for raising the child and ensure that the child is not subjected to cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that may negatively affect the child’s health, life, welfare, dignity, physical, emotional, psychological, mental or intellectual development.
It also states that a child needs care and protection if a parent or guardian of the child is unfit or has neglected to exercise proper supervision and control over the child and the child is falling into bad association and when the child is affected or infected by HIV and AIDS and other life-threatening conditions.
Psychologist Mokhali Mokhu notes that by law, a child below the age of 18 is regarded as a minor and legally that particular individual is supposed to be in school and not be playing the role of a parent. Mokhu says a person below the age of consent has not developed and matured to handle issues of parenting, disciplining and fending for the younger ones.
He says if children are left with the role that burdens and alters their self-actualisation as well as a sense of belonging, they are detached from their peers and can be emotionally destroyed because their play phase has been severely affected. He says some parenting children can be victims of human trafficking and hard labour or even be exploited sexually by adults in return for pennies while struggling to take care of their siblings
Mokhu adds that the siblings’ psychological growth can be affected negatively because they desire parent figure in their growth and when they do not receive it they might end up being disobedient, not knowing self- respect and respect for other people. He says their schooling can also be affected because there is no one to cater for their demands. He says children who raise their siblings and those raised by siblings are likely to get involved in intergenerational marriage because of lack of parental guidance and supervision.
“They are also vulnerable to drug use in order to calm the circumstances and some can easily become commercial sex workers at a young age and this can alter their biological development and expose them to sexually transmitted diseases,” he states. The Ministry of Social Development was instituted in 2012 with the aim of leading and facilitating the provision of sustainable social development services that are universally accessible to all vulnerable groups in Lesotho in collaboration with other stakeholders.
During her tenure of office, former minister of social development ’Matebatso Doti told this publication that the Ministry’s attention is on children, elderly and disabled persons. She said the ministry offers child grants program (CGP) in a cash form to needy households caring for orphans and vulnerable children on quarterly basis and provides public assistance cash grant to 12 000 destitute people, post primary bursaries to orphans and vulnerable children.
Doti said the ministry assists individuals to minimise the impact of shock in the form of food parcels, assistive devices and provide a subvention to care facilities and institutions caring for orphans, vulnerable children, disabled persons and the elderly. According to her, the ministry’s vision for Lesotho is to be a nation where everyone enjoys an acceptable-basic-standard of living and in which there are equal opportunities for all people to realize their full potential and for Basotho to be given opportunities to ensure that they are economically productive and not dependent on grants especially those that are able.
“The ministry has a community development program initiative with the aim of improving livelihoods and households spending on basic items. “The ministry through the help of European Union (EU) offers grants to address the effects of HIV/AIDS whereby many children were left orphans and vulnerable. The project is now fully funded by the Government of Lesotho,” she said.
She added that it is everyone’s responsibility to report to the ministry when they see or come across a case that needs social development’s attention so that a review can be done on the matter and assistance or guidance given where necessary.
* Not real name.