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(91): Girl-Child, Poverty and Our Society this Century

Muhsin Ibrahim

The word “culture” defies any simple definition, though attempts to do that have been made and continue to be. In response to a post I made on Facebook the other day, a friend commented that “Hausa culture has nearly eroded to extinction”, for, according to him, when one asks many young Hausa (men and women) about their culture, they will tell you, “Islam is my culture”. 

Weak, if not erroneous, as I believe this view is, it makes me happy for several reasons. Culture, religion and, to an extent, language are carriers of a lot of value. The most valuable of them all is, to me, religion. Therefore, I would prefer a Hausa girl or boy to identify herself/himself first with Islam than with the culture as the culture is not as perfect as the religion is.

However, neither the culture nor the religion means anything significant to countless Muslim girls and boys in this 21st century. This is one of the reasons why I find his argument very flawed. There has been a sharp surge in the anti-cultural, antisocial and anti-religious attitudes and behaviours in our youth recently. The moral deprivation of our societies requires no further elaboration as it is slowly but surely becoming very quotidian. This is assisted by many factors, some of which I will mention in this short article. 

Top on the list is poverty. The scourge has forced many boys and girls into prostitution and other big and petty crimes. I was watching the famous Arewa 24 series, Dadin Kowa; Sabon Salo the other day where such destitution pushes one of the casts into prostitution. This is a clear-cut demonstration of what is obtained in our societies today. Many girls struggle to not only buy cosmetics for their daily makeup but a sanitary pad for their monthly period. To do that or risk getting infected for using unhygienic materials, some give up their body in exchange for a paltry amount of money. A girl confessed to a friend of mine that she had no option. The price of essential commodities such as the pad keeps rising while her parents can barely feed them. With the token she gets from her apathetic so-called boyfriend who, on every visit, gropes her, she gets ample to assist the parents. In fact, many “dudes” give money to a girl only in exchange for something!

This girl may be in dire condition or was just wayward, as many people would conclude. Both or either can be the case. However, I am cocksure that many similar cases exist. Many perverts lure several unsuspecting girls (and boys!), mostly hawkers or housemaids, to their den and rape them. I have written copiously on this devastating issue, using Kano as a microcosm of Hausa community. I am sure that if our girls and women could muster the courage to open up on the ongoing revelations of sexual assault and harassment by men in the world tagged #MeToo, theirs will stand out. But they cannot do due to the very possible, nay, definite repercussion of so doing; the society will stigmatise them, and many will end up as pariahs. If married, they stand a good chance to be divorced. Women have been divorced for much lesser ‘crimes’ in our communities.

It is equally true that both sexual and material desires are, every day, pushing our youth to commit many vices. Years back, almost everyone expects a girl to get married once she finishes secondary school. I have never supported that though, but this rarely happens today. Our girls, inexperienced as they are, are, often, left on themselves with no plan for marriage or education. You cannot blame them for not having a suitor, I know that. Blame our fallen financial status coupled with the excessive demand and expectation we put on ourselves for the wedding ceremonies. Many young men want to get married but have little or no means. Thus, to quench that physiological need, some of them resort to spending the little they have on the already hungry, ripe girls around.

I conducted a quick survey on the social media recently on the proliferation of lewd groups and pages in the Hausa language. Some of these are outrageously for lesbians, gays and so on and so forth. This couldn’t be imagined to have happened some few years ago, but this is the reality today. I was reliably told that the worse happens on WhatsApp – and yes, no doubt, for most of those pages and groups invite their visitors to join their WhatsApp groups for their privacy, etc. The more troubling thing is the way and manner some of those visitors, males and females, do openly drop their phone numbers, to be added to those groups. A few clicks would confirm to you that most of those shameless users are jobless youth, out of school teenagers, desperate girls looking for solace, etc. No doubt, poverty plays a significant role in that societal degradation.

I also accuse the combination of ignorance and laxity of many parents. As I wrote in another article titled "Islam, Culture, Social Media and the Rest of Us"Facebook, or any social media, is no longer what it used to be: a mere, innocuous social networking site for friending, chatting, sharing pictures and the like. It is now a life-shaping platform. This and a whole host of other reasons, therefore, call for parents, guardians and all to be (more) wary of how, and of course who, his/her children, wards, siblings, etc. interact with.

The government, as you might have guessed, must shoulder some responsibility, too, for not doing much (if anything!) to alleviate the poverty millions of its citizens live in today. Poverty is a disease that leads to despair and death. As representatives of a philanthropic organisation, we visited the Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital, Kano in late August this year. The unhealthy, impoverished living condition of the patients in the ward we toured moved some of us to tears, wallahi. About two or three patients died in 24 hours, one of them a few minutes before our arrival. Although it is, religiously speaking, their time to die, their deaths were not unconnected to their lack of money. The story is long. May Allah rest their souls, amin.

Millions of people live in squalor not because there is untamed poverty in our societies; lack of sharing of wealth results to this, I believe. Take a quick look at the palpable affluence of some few individuals around you or the way the governments spend (waste, in fact) a considerable amount of money on unnecessary projects, radio jingles, political campaigns and thuggery, etc. No society develops this way. Primary healthcare and primary education, if nothing else, should not be anyone’s headache. Let people do the rest with the peanut money they earn.

As individuals, we are equal stakeholders in this. The slow death of our hitherto very rich communalism does us in. Everyone today cares more, if not only, about himself, wife and children. Just a few care about their own relations, not to mention neighbours or others they barely know. We all need to be more humanitarian, to put hands on deck towards allaying poverty, for we are very prone to its effect. For instance, no doubt it breeds terrible behaviour in our youth. Thus, how safe are we when our youth are becoming prostitutes, drug addicts, thieves or even armed robbers, and so on? We are not. We cannot be.

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