Cut the camera | Nigeria’s cultural attitude towards orphans may be evolving

The apathy of Nigerians for child adoption is a statistically established fact. A study published by the Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice involving 259 respondents in the south-east revealed a whopping 88.4% would only consider adoption on the grounds of infertility. It is a case of research mirroring our lived reality because almost every Nigerian has or knows someone who has heard some iteration or other of the statement, “Unless you can’t procreate yourself, why are you raising another person’s child?” Yet, every now and then a litany of bawdy images of ‘concerned’ citizens posing for a picture in front of ‘donations’ and surrounded by glazed-eyed orphans in one orphanage or another saturate the internet.

Coalition of Orphanages and Children’s Homes In Nigeria (COCHIN) has finally taken a step to protect the children in its care who have been used for years as props while being largely ignored with respect to what they really need – a loving home. COCHIN, in November 2020, banned visitors from taking pictures with the children they visit in all orphanage homes in the country.

In a letter to all its members, COCHIN cited the embarrassment and stigmatisation pictures taken and shared online causes the children in these homes. The coalition went on to stipulate a fine of 50,000 naira on any orphanage that violates the directive.

It is a testament to the progress our national discourse is making in defense of human dignity. However slow said progress is, it helps to see a body so disregardingly treated rising to demand the decent treatment of the wards in its care.

Nigeria’s cultural attitude towards children is as diverse as the richness of its 100+ unique cultures. Amidst this profusion of difference however, if the content of what adult millennials of their childhood experiences across cultures is anything to go by, there is a connecting thread of festering dysfunction. From emotional abuse, verbal abuse, to outright physical abuse by parents, teachers, and often adult strangers who feel obligated to model for the child ‘our culture’ even if what it takes is physical violence. Spare the rod and spoil the child is not just a Christian anecdote, it is a Nigerian truth.

The idea of children as individual humans with complex emotions and a burgeoning wealth of ideas, desires, and opinions is still dismissed even by millennial parents who see it as an import of western individualistic ideal of civilised society.

Orphaned, indigent, and disabled children draw a shorter straw still with rights violations. Disregarded by organised society and used as prop to feed into the culture of poverty porn locals as well as foreign visitors greedily lap up to satisfy their own privileged audience.

COCHIN, with this ban, has done a tremendous service both to the children in its care and social attitudes towards orphans. We are not at the ideal place where orphaned children’s access to new homes and loving families are not only predicated on the infertility of people. Where the intrinsic beauty and value of a child is enough to warrant that child a loving home. Banning access to these children for the satisfaction of a base fetish of many is nevertheless a good start.

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