Anthony M. Wanjohi:
Child rearing practices are as old as humanity. Effective child-care practices play a vital role in children’s growth, brain development, personality enhancement and health promotion. In most parts of Africa, child-rearing practices are highly influenced by the traditional norms and values. Such norms include but may not be limited to cutting of cord, weaning practices and folk medicine practices. This article examines some of these practices.
Cord Cutting Practices
In rural Africa, due to a lack of accessible, affordable and quality health care services, home deliveries are preferred over hospital deliveries. The home deliveries are most of the time carried out by Traditional Birth Attendants or mothers in laws, who themselves are not trained. As a traditional practice, on baby’s birth the cord is cut with blades or knives, and many a times cow dung or ash is applied on the baby’s cord for healing purpose. During the healing period, some mothers apply saliva on the cord. They believe that this practice bring about quick ‘healing’. These practices set many newborns up for neonatal tetanus and serve as contributing factor for child mortality.
Practices Concerning Weaning
Still today in various parts of Africa, the introduction of a weaning diet is either too early or too late, which holds the risk of contributing to the child’s malnutrition. Some studies have shown that cultural beliefs and taboos affect the weaning in a majority of the cases. For instance, various nutritious foods are not given to the infant in the mistaken belief that they would cause illness. Foods like meat and eggs are considered as foods that could cause allergy and foods like citrus fruits, mangoes are considered as foods that hold characteristics of causing flu and pneumonia. Children during early ages are deprived of nutritious foods that are required for growth and development.
Folk Medicine Practices
The ways in which various cultures in Africa treat family members who have fallen ill can also bring about reports of abuse. Time honored folk medicine practices, viewed as irrational, ineffective, and insupportable by western medical standards are strongly believed by many members of culturally different groups.
For instance, herbal medicines are very common among many African cultures. Infants are given certain herbs in order to clean the body system. Before first teeth, infants are given some herbs to counter ‘diarrhea’ which is believed to be caused by the ‘sprouting’ teeth. The list is long. Some of these practices work; some do not!
In Africa, a child does not only belong to the family but to the society. Thus, advice about child rearing comes from one and all, from young to the old. It is left to the prudence of the ‘new’ parents to choose what practice to take. Some talk of shaving, others about the cord and still others about child massage among other practices. The writer is of the opinion that there are good and bad child rearing practices in Africa. Some are founded upon the wisdom of African sages; others on common experience. Some practices however, may not hold ground at this age and time. As such, parents and care takers are encouraged to sieve what child rearing practices to follow based on the voice of reason and experience.