Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Go Ye Forth... and Multiply

A Touch of Nokoko by Kofi Akumanyi

"The number of illegitimate children in England is at its highest since records began. The annual report of the government's Chief Medical Officer, Sir Henry Yellowlees, shows that while the overall birth rate has fallen, the proportion of illegitimate births has more than doubled in 20 years" - December 4, 1983.

"At least 50 million children are being exploited as cheap labour, mainly in developed countries, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Highlighting the plight of children 'prematurely leading adult lives, working long hours for low wages under conditions demanding to health,' the report calls on governments to take measures to stamp out such abuses" - June 1983.

Is there any connection between these two stories? Not as they stand. The vexing question of illegitimate births, child labour, high divorce rate, drug abuse and related issues are problems of our times that we have to live with. In the Third World where the majority of the people are faced with struggle for survival on daily basis with drought, diseases, political upheavals as part and parcel of their existence, it may be difficult to appreciate the ILO complaint about child labour and its undesirable effects on the health of children.

In most developing countries, the labour of children is very necessary to the survival of a family, especially in the rural farming areas where, for obvious reasons, agriculture is still very labour-intensive.

While children of school-going age are exempted during weekdays when schools are in session, all members of a farming family are expected to go to help at week-ends, and carry head loads of food and fuel for consumption in the home and to be sold at the market. Nobody questions this practice because children are not regarded as objects of exploitation for wages.

However, with urbanisation and increasing drift to the cities by the youth attitude is: well, why try?" the unsavoury aspects of this otherwise perfectly sensible arrangement have had very serious repercussions on development.

But the question arises: if the exigencies of the economies of developing countries have necessitated the abuse of child labour, what is the excuse for exploiting children in t developed nations? In the same vein, the question of illegitimate children in developing countries is hardly discussed because the custom and traditions of many societies have a way of integrating such aberrations' to avoid causing serious dislocation in family relationships.

I rang my friend Dr John Knowall the renowned Sociologist to help throw more light on the increase in child labour in developed countries and its possible connection to the proportional increase in illegitimate births in a developed country like Britain.

"I have just read that the number of illegitimate births has more than doubled in 20 years in this country..."

"Who said that?" he cut in, with a sharpness which suggested I had committed some sort of sacrilege.

"The Chief Medical Officer, Henry Yellowlees."

"He said that? Well, he may have a point there. I'm not surprised either."

"You mean, you expect illegitimate children to be on the increase?" I asked incredulously.

"Sociologically speaking, the atmosphere in the last twenty years was very conducive to the production of illegitimate children" emphasised Dr Knowall.

"Now, please give it to me in slow motion" I pleaded, "you mean..."

"I said the climate has been ripe for the reproduction of illegitimate birth of illegitimate children?" things", he said. "The indices are there for all to see".

"Well, I haven't seen any yet. I'm all ears, I can't wait to hear them."

"In the first place, unemployment had slowly risen from nothing to over three-and-a-half million. And remember that most of the people who are out of a job are men. Drug addiction has hit alarming levels and worldwide feeling of despondency about the arms race had been escalating. Psychologically, people began to give up and turn to doing illegitimate things. The attitude is: well, why try?

"But Dr Knowall, surely if this is really the situation why don't people turn to their wives and husbands? I believe it is obviously cheaper in social terms that way. The paradox in this is that the overall birth rate has fallen" I said. I was beginning to feel worried.

"Turn to their wives for what? In times like these, nobody turns to his wife or husband, they go outside", he paused for a moment. "It is called the External Resources Syndrome."

"I'm beginning to see the drift of the problem.”

"You wouldn't see it properly until you understand the political implications of the whole phenomenon."

"What is it?" I asked.

"You see the root cause of the problem actually originates from the politicians. They started it all with their dubious economic policies. Then they sit back, take stock and formulate new strategies to befuddle us all in an effort to prove that they're working for the people who elected them..."

"Quite. But one fact that Sir Yellow lees didn't make known is the breakdown of the figures into social strata involved in this production of the, eh, Sir ...External Resources Syndrome."

"I also haven't got the figures readily available but I can tell you that even though the parentage of these illegitimate children are often well protected, evidence exists to prove that it swings more to the upper levels of the society."

"How do you know for sure?"

"Why, have you forgotten the recent rumpus which caused the demise of a member of parliament? There are more such cases around I can assure you."

"Very sordid... What do you suggest the government can do to reduce the birth of illegitimate children?”


"What do you mean, nothing? Surely you're not saying that it is a good feature of a country currently facing serious unemployment and other problems..."

"Listen, it's a phase which will pass. We can't afford the scandal which will erupt over this if any attempt is made to involve government funds into research and investigations etc.. We have to let sleeping illegitimate children lie”

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