Children and Childhood

Steve Howard

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Children and Childhood

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African society is structured largely around the lives of its children. Across the continent, children represent continuity with rituals and contemporary institutions designed to ensure children’s survival and prosperity. At the same time, children are viewed in many African cultures as crucial to family survival itself, in that they help maintain household economies through their cheap labor in the home, in family agricultural or food-processing activities, or in trade or artisanship. In this sense, the strongest data that we have to describe these circumstances are in anthropological and related studies, where strong linguistic access increases the likelihood that children will be encountered in interviews or observations in the course of the study. Many of these studies have provided us with the knowledge we have of life in rural African society (see Childhood and Society). At the same time, few of these studies are focused specifically on children, but instead these studies place children in the context of African families, communities, and the wider society. Anthropological research in Africa has given us a sense of the process that takes children into adulthood and the institutions that have been developed for that process; language acquisition is a related field of study. The historical study of Africa has not provided extensive detail of the lives of children because political history and economic history have been the major strains of that literature, sectors in which children have not necessarily been highly visible. There are a few scholars, however, who have made historical study of children and slavery a significant field. Contemporary scholarship has focused on children primarily through the extension of institutions, such as health and education, to children. There are also many studies on the issue of War and Child Soldiers in Africa, despite the fact that the numbers of children engaged in such violence are relatively small. A particularly strong area of the literature, albeit an area difficult to catalogue or collect due to its limited circulation or “in-house” nature, is in socioeconomic development, as administered by governmental, nongovernmental, and private-voluntary organizations. In some ways the literature on African children is an extension of growing interest in women in Africa, and in the differential impact of socioeconomic change and development on women and children. In that way we see great strides made in the area of maternal and child health, for example, linking the health of children at its earliest stages to the processes of fertility, pregnancy, and perinatal issues. From that point there are concerns for the Health of African children through the most vulnerable years up to age five. Education or Schooling becomes the dominant field of African child study from that age onward, with new concerns growing about the plight of the African Girl Child, the most marginalized of global social groups. The issues surrounding the African girl child include relative deprivation in terms of school access; special health concerns such as in the area known as “harmful traditional practices,” such as female circumcision and early marriage; and the related issue of obstetric fistula. New areas of research include African children in Sports and in the arts, and children’s relationships with Media. Children have been important characters in African Literature and Theater. This review covers a wide range of research related to children across the cultures of Africa, and the variability across its fifty-four independent countries.

Article.  14287 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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