As earlier discussed, adolescence is the site for the convergence of various rights and their classes. It is also often considered as the phase in which humanity can be fixed.
As a result, there is great emphasis on the protection of adolescents as children. What is hardly ever discussed, however, is the tension that also exists at this phase of being human.
In previous articles, we sought to redefine the life stage of adolescence, trying to do away with the idea that adolescents will acquire human rights, upon attaining adulthood. In this piece, we explore this a bit further.
The term ‘adolescence’ is a relatively new notion that came with the industrial age, and the formalisation of education in mass schools. It was around this time that ideals such as the outlawing of child labour were being introduced.
In re-shaping itself, the world started to consider ‘adolescence’ as a critical developmental stage, separate from childhood, and adulthood. Age started being considered in a chronological manner, and a deciding factor in the level that a learner would be placed in, at school. It is not a term that has always been there. It was obviously engendered theoretically, to adequately differentiate what would largely become a transition stage.
Africa inherited this notion with colonialism. Previously, and normatively, various African tribes had initiation schools, which were the site for people to shift from being children, to being adults. Great secrecy surrounds these schools and what was taught in them. However many historians argue that they are what fostered the construct of community – each member of a regiment was answerable to, and accountable to other members of their regiment.
It is said that there were teachings of how to be wives and husbands, at these schools, the institution of marriage, being central to the continuation of a bloodline, and the expansion of a community. Invariably, many marriages that happened at this time were either amongst people who were under the age of 18years, and would legally be considered ‘children’, in terms of the laws that we welcomed with colonialism, and which we have continued to foster.
With the entry of colonialism, came the introduction of Christianity to Africa, and by no difference, to Botswana. As a result of colonialism, what we now know as ‘formal education’ was introduced. As we know, there were many things lost in that fire. Amongst them, our voices, and the openness I imagine people spoke about certain matters before the great wars that ended up dividing our once unified continent.
The notion of Pan-Africanism, is the radical idea that people of African decent have similar interests and should be unified; it enshrines
How could they co-exist with who Africa is, or was, and who she was shaping up to be, in the context of existing as part of the global community? Various countries started to accept the changes of various laws, as influenced by international standards and practice. Botswana opted for what is known as a dual legal system, where the Customary Courts co-exist with Common Law Courts. With the development of the country came urbanisation. Many of our parents were raised in terms of customary standards and practices.
Having moved to the city, many marrying here, and raising their children here, many of our tribal traditions were lost. We, the people born in the 80s) are possibly the first generation where there is a clear view of this conundrum.
The tension that exists in adolescents in Botswana, and to an extent, perhaps other nations in the continent, is quite peculiar. Raised semi-traditionally, and yet governed by civil consideration, our bodies are the sites of a tug of war, or sorts. It seems we are also the ones who first heard the deafening silence of the loss of the sense of community and accountability.
This silence I keep referencing is essentially this, that in failing to reconcile Christianity with tradition, many originally customary practices were silently proscribed, and have gone unmentioned.
Child marriages, which were initially a real thing, are now apparently out of question, despite the reality that many of us know of them. The silence is in that we just don’t speak about these divergent positions and practices, because in many cases, there is a struggle between customary law and civil law.
That said, children quite obviously need protection. With the concept of evolving capacities discussed in an earlier piece, however, young people find themselves in various situations that render their actions either illegal or socially unacceptable. It is these situations and laws that we will explore in the next piece.
It goes without saying that adolescence is a foreign construct that needs unpacking, understanding, and de-colonising, in order to be understood in the context of our right now. There are so many gaps that are created by the differences between customary law and civil law, because of the lifestyles we now live.