While Western societies mark the end of childhood at a certain age, in Africa the movement of individuals through childhood is not marked by arbitrary fixed ages but by rites of passage which lack chronological specificity.
A deduction can be made that the African transitional stage from nonage to adulthood is less restrictive therefore rendering it superior than the Western transition from childhood to adulthood since it is being degraded as arbitrary. The notion that the Western Culture of childhood transition to adulthood is described as arbitrary suggest that their culture is basing childhood on irrational grounds and there is a missing logical explanation as to why age alone can viewed as the indicator of childhood transition to adulthood.
Western societies are so persuaded that age is the sole factor for marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. On the other hand another crucial argument is being raised about the lack of chronological order of these rites of passage. Perhaps it is not significant that the chronological order of these African rites has been omitted.
Africans are enlightened of the fact that age alone cannot successfully mark the transition of childhood to adulthood
According to Morrow (2011) childhood involves the state or the period of being a child. During this crucial time the child is being oriented to the new social environment which seems so peculiar to them.
The objectives of this discussion is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the African rites of passage which are involved when young people move past childhood into adulthood.
Furthermore the strengths and weaknesses of how children in the Western society move past childhood to adulthood will also be thoroughly discussed in greater detail. Ultimately lessons will be drawn from both cultures observe the coming of age. In the end there will be a discussion on how childhood transition into adulthood should be perceived from a multi-lateral perspective. There will be an introduction the idea of a new sociology of childhood in which the ideas from both cultures concerning the movement of children to adulthood should be complimented and integrated.
It is essential to enlarge our deep rooted understanding of what constitutes Western juvenility stage. According to the Western culture childhood can be described as a sensitive period usually from the stage of birth to adolescence through which a child quickly, and proactively learns to interact with their social environment by using their sensory and motor skills while simultaneously letting their imagination know no bound. According to Montessori (1966) childhood is a sensitive period characterised by a vital impulse, creative instinct, and an active potency, to gain more information about their environment. And the fact that The West consider childhood to be a sensitive period that is loaded with innocence, spiritual purity, freedom. Furthermore during this time the child is able to enjoy all the pleasures of being young, they are living in the most sanctified time of their life.
According to United Nations International Childrens Emergency Fund (UNICEF) childhood is the stage graced with ample time to be relax and be enrolled in school, as well as to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. It is a precious time of bliss in which children should thrive and deeply cherish, children should be provided with a safe haven from violence. Moreover a complete childhood is inclusive of the notion of age chronology which is situated between critical stages of birth and infancy. And according to the Chambers Concise 20th century dictionary it stipulates that childhood is mainly confined to the age of an individual.
Moreover within the Chambers Concise 20th century dictionary contains (acts of parliament and criminal law of European countries) that have come to the consensus that a child is a young person usually up to the age of 16 or 14. It is clear that the Western society places an important emphasis on the legal definition of childhood. The reason for this is because during the 19th and 20th centuries being a child was based in relation to what specific age that child would leave school.
The transition of children between childhood and adulthood is observed differently in both cultures. For example in Western Society this transitional stage has been stipulated to be the age of majority. Furthermore Western societies are fully aware of the implications that the age of majority brings. As outlined by the Law Reform Commission Act (1975) During that stage of the age of majority a certain threshold of ages usually between 18-21 years in most states is recognised by constitutional laws that when an individual has reached these ages they should no longer be considered a minor but instead they should be recognised as an adult who is competent enough to take full responsibility for their actions and decisions.
This means as adults they are to be held accountable by the law whenever they breach important institutional obligations such as marriage, or when signing important contracts from a company in which they are legal bound to. Furthermore according to The Law Reform Commission Act 1975 as adults such individuals can exercise their rights during their age of majority. Meanwhile minors which involve persons under the threshold age of majority (a male between the ages of 14 and 21 and a female between the ages of 12 and 21) are protected and are seen as needing the constant care of their parents and legal system
It worth noting that other Western states started to introduce the concept of the age of majority through pieces of legislation. At first the Age of majority was initially 21 years but over time it was reduced to 18 years. The examples of such pieces of legislation include The Industrial and Provident Societies Act (1893) and The Succession Act (1965).
On the other hand the African culture has adopted its special procedure of marking the end of childhood. According to the African Charter on The Rights and Welfare of The Child Article 31 (ACRWC 1990) stipulates that children have responsibilities and are obliged to serve their families despite how old they are. Children are deemed as servants that adhere to task completing activities and should be harshly punished. Furthermore African are so convinced that age alone cannot only be used to determine an individuals transition to adulthood.
Moreover this transition according to the African culture is an extraordinary occasion of sacredness and celebration where the newly transitioned adults are empowered and imparted with essential skills that will help to become component adults who are able to be effective in the way that they carry out their duties. In Africa rites of passage are used to formally recognise and appreciate the most important period of a childs life which is their coming of age. It is worth noting that rites of passage can be defined as special ceremonious rituals which are so sacred and have been passed down from generation to generation to the extent that they have left a legacy engraved spirituality amongst the African community.
According to the article Nigerian young girls who are known as iriabo spend of their time for over a month in what can be termed fattening rooms where they are required to wear copper coils around their leg so that they can be equipped with essential skills which can help them prepare for womanhood. The Nigerian culture is convinced these girls would become competent women that have been properly groomed. Other African cultures include how Senegal boys participate in the Kore rite where they are taken to a sacred forest so they can fully immerse themselves in a symbolic death and a rebirth into infancy.
Though this type of rituals are devoid of chronological specificity this does not take away the long lasting value they have instilled in African societies. This is because many Africans have come to the realisation that the Coming of age ceremonies should be mainly concerned about the quality and competency of the kind adult the child will become.
According to the (John Frazier) who expounded notes concerning The African Coming of Age Article mentioned that a huge majority of African coming of age ritual are comprised of three extremely important phases. The first includes their separation from the community, secondly a stage of liminality and reintegration into the society. For example both young girls and boys are taken to a secluded bush that is isolated from the rest of the village. For example the Krobo of eastern Ghana the girls experience seclusion for three full week and during that time they are equipped with female behavioural lessons, personal grooming skills and they learn to fully immerse in ceremonious songs and dances
In conclusion it is important to draw lessons from how both cultures have marked the transition from childhood to adulthood. Support the idea of a new sociology of childhood that neither cultures perception on childhood is enough. That is childhood cannot be just confined to how The Western society perceives childhood or just too how African perceive childhood. It needs to be inclusive and multifaceted. And what we learn is that childhood transition process is not just about an individual who is below the legal age of majority where they cannot be criminally held responsible or sued until they reach 18 or 21 years, it involves the quality of life that the life is about to embark on, its about community service and dedication. It also about showcasing all their all the skills proving their worth to the world. Being the best, strongest and toughest adult that this loaded with self-defence abilities and resilience.