Professor Chinyere Stella Okunna is the first female professor of Mass Communication and former Commissioner for Information and Economic Planning and Budget in Anambra State , among other positions. In this interview with IJEOMA EKWOWUSI, she identified poor parenting and exposure to the internet as part of reasons children of these days indulge in sexual activities before they are of age, including the importance of early sex education among others. Excerpts:
THE girl child of basic school age is beginning to show that she is sexually active. Such girls tend to practicalise sexual acts in school with their school mates especially the opposite sex. What do you think is primarily responsible for this and what danger does it portend for the general society?
There are a number of reasons for that. I will begin with parenting. Effective parenting involves both the father and the mother. Many parents are not really prepared to give serious consideration and attention to parenting. Many are taking parenting for granted and are not devoting enough time to their children, expecting that the children will grow up on their own and by some kind of magic, learn the right things do and to know.
Yes, parents need to work to earn income to look after their children and their families. But then, there must be a way of multi-tasking to combine parenting with paid employment or whatever they are engaged in to make money. For me, parenting should be given more attention and taken more seriously.
Another very serious cause of what is going on is the internet. The internet contains virtually everything and children should not be given the freedom to access the internet without supervision. This is part of effective parenting. When you allow the children unlimited access to the internet, they can find anything there: good things, bad things, blue movies, all kinds of sexual activities and other evil things.
The internet is a gateless medium and parents should have control over whatever their children view, although I know that they are also exposed to these kinds of things in school among peer groups. We should begin to lay the good foundation at home when they are very young, so as to limit the influence of peer groups.
Again, children are maturing earlier nowadays, unlike in my days. Before I began to look like a woman, I was already 14 years or older. Nowadays, you see nine- year old or 10- year old girls and they are already looking like full grown women. I don’t know the cause of the rapid maturity; those in the medical profession should know.
This rapid development forms part of the danger because of some horrible men around – sexual perverts. They see these children and treat them as adults. Their eyes begin to sparkle, believing they have seen big girls, not knowing they are only nine or 10 year-old children.
The society is already in danger, with moral decadence everywhere. The way things are going now, I keep wondering what will happen in the next 10 years if young people keep behaving like this. I don’t know what our children would be doing; what the society would look like. They would probably be having sex along the roads like dogs.
People are shamelessly doing things they should not even be thinking about. Children are indulging in activities they shouldn’t even be dreaming of. In the next 10 to 20 years, the moral fabric of society would have collapsed completely if things continue going the way they are now.
If there is no check on children, the way they are going now and stopping what is going on now, society will crumble and all manner of inconceivable activities will be happening and when that happens, the situation will be that of anarchy; animal kingdom.
What is the ideal age for sex education to be taught to the girl child in the home?
When I was young, that was years and years ago, most parents didn’t talk about sex education, but level of morality was very high and children somehow learnt to behave themselves. With what is going on now, I think parents should begin as early as possible; say nine years.
We used to say children were children until they were 15 years old. Now, children are beginning to act like adults at nine years. Sex education should begin by nine years of age or 10 years maximum but I think health experts can give an exact age.
Children are beginning to mature early. If you have a nine- year old child and her breasts are coming out, you must begin to teach her what those structures on her body mean and the dangers of abusing them. Tell her everything – there are no more secrets because she looks in the mirror and sees her body changing.
As her parent, if you don’t give her the right education about her developing sexuality, other people might begin to give her the wrong ideas. So give her the ideas before others. Begin as early as possible, especially if your own girl is maturing at a very fast rate. Begin even when others have not begun.
Would you advocate for sex education to be added to the Universal Basic Education (UBE) curriculum in Nigerian schools?
I think so. It’s time to do that because sometimes, like I earlier said, so many parents do not have the time, do not have the inclination, may not even know how to start and feel embarrassed to talk about sexual matters with their children. Some feel that if they start talking to their girl child about sex education, it means they are giving her ideas about sex.
But a teacher can do that with ease if sex education is part of the curriculum. This is common in advanced countries and they begin quite early. I think it should be formally taught in schools so the children can know what is going on.
There’s a war going on over the Supreme Court ruling on overturning abortion rights in America. What is your take on that?
Anti-abortion sentiments are mainly fuelled by religious sentiments, such as in Christianity. Religion is breaking down almost everywhere. It is not as strong as it is used to be. Anti-abortion laws were mainly supported by religious bodies and now religion is becoming weakened and women are becoming more vocal and assertive.
So two things are happening; religion is no longer binding on many people. When you say abortion should not be carried out, many women are defying the Church and religious groups and insisting they must be allowed to control their bodies.
Secondly, women are escaping from so many types of control in the society imposed on them by men. It was men and society controlling women’s bodies. For instance, if a girl gets pregnant as a result of sexual promiscuity with a man, the man abandons her.
It’s the woman alone who suffers all the medical handicaps of pregnancy, suffers all the economic handicaps of taking care of herself and everything. It’s the woman who goes through the unwanted labour and produces a child.
It’s the woman who finds the economic means to feed herself and her child, whereas it was the man and the woman who both had sex to produce this child that they are not prepared for. Our society allows the man so to say, to abscond. So women are saying: “Why should I suffer this alone?
It is my body and my life which this unwanted baby will mess up. The man is not here; even if he is here, we are not prepared to have this baby so the best thing is to get rid of the pregnancy.” Personally, I don’t support abortion. I believe people should be more careful about bringing babies into the world. So if you are not prepared for parenthood, why do things that will result in pregnancy?
The Americans are way ahead. Therefore, their women believe that no Supreme Court, no institution, no law should supersede the woman’s own law of how to control her body and her life. Whether this is right or wrong depends on who you are, what you worship and what your society believes in. Surprisingly, many women across the globe are rallying to support the movement.
There is an outcry of femicide in some parts of the world like Mexico, India and even in Nigeria. What are the global implications on the reproductive development of the girl child?
I think people are crazy committing femicide which is killing of female children because they are unwanted, as society has continued to prefer the male child over the female child. Again, this trend is rampant in the developing world. In the advanced world, many people don’t really mind the sex of a baby.
Don’t former President Bill Clinton of the United States and his wife have a daughter as an only child? Former President Barack Obama and wife have only two daughters and this doesn’t bother them. They are aging now and when they are gone, their daughters will continue their lineages. In contrast, in our clime, if you don’t have a son, society believes you are finished.
The preference for the boy child is fuelling this kind of very horrible killing. You kill a baby because she’s a female child and because you want a male child. In Nigeria nowadays among young couples, the ideal family is widely believed to be three or four children: two boys and a girl, or three boys and a girl. If everybody wants three boys and a girl, when those three boys grow up to marry, whose daughters will the other two sons or three sons marry?
It’s crazy! It’s going to kill the colouration, the composition of society. In the long run, if you keep killing girl children because you don’t want them, or doing sex selection to have male children, a time will come when there will be no more girl children at all and procreation would end. Unless science from the way it’s going now will find a way for men to become mothers. Femicide is a horrible thing; even the mere mention of it is terrifying.
Early marriage is still persisting as a problem here in Anambra State. What wholistic approach can the government take to nip it in the bud before it forms part of the system?
Early marriage was beginning to stop in many areas because girls were beginning to go to school. Girls were getting education at primary, secondary and even tertiary levels before settling down to marriage. This was becoming allowed and applauded.
But nowadays, because of what many young people are doing, girls are becoming very sexually active. Many parents are saying that instead of their daughters to become pregnant and have babies in their homes at 13 years, it’s better for such girls to get married at that age and do that in their husbands’ houses.
That’s the dangerous thing that is coming up again because many parents who are not ready to give the needed attention to their girl children are afraid that they would ‘destroy’ themselves and the reputation of their families. People still condemn pregnancy outside marriage; it’s still a lot of stigma in Anambra State for an unmarried girl to get pregnant in her father’s house and have a baby. It’s still condemned by the Church and almost everybody. If it happens to one’s daughter, it is considered a major disaster for that person.
Whatever the circumstances, child marriage is wrong. My ideal age for marriage is 25 years. By then, the girl is through with primary, secondary and tertiary education and ready for life as an independent being. Then marriage follows, if the right man comes along.
I don’t believe in desperation for marriage, and I think there is too much desperation by girls to get married nowadays. When my generation was young, we knew marriage was good but we were not desperate to get married and I don’t think our parents were desperate to push us into marriage.
Nowadays, people are looking at marriage as if it is the only life for a girl child. By the time a girl turns 30 and is not married, people think she is finished, hopeless and even useless. Consequently, all manner of pressure is piled on the girl. It is quite common nowadays to see secondary school students whose ambition is to get married.
They are already very actively and desperately looking for husbands. Honestly, I pity this generation. It’s a horrible situation. With that kind of pressure, even some parents who are not enlightened become heart-broken once their daughters are 30, how much more 35, not to talk of 40.