By: Habeeb Abdul

Image credit: Boys Without Borders.

This year, 2023, will mark the sixth year since the celebration of the Boy Child began. To individuals across sociocultural spheres, an International Day of the Boy Child may appear another cross-continental oddity. To others, its observation is a cause to sigh in deep relief. But this will likely not be for the right reasons.

The participants on either side of the spectrum have unique backdrops to their perception. The former asks: “Who is the boy-child?” Or “Why is the boy a child?” For the latter, it is: “thank goodness they now know we are here, men should get some credit, too.”

These individual, yet connected ends, represent the different realms of opinion surrounding the upbringing of the male. The first category of people is not able to understand why the boy is really a child since his mere presence denotes a readiness for responsibility. Something that children are not known to bear. The second category understands that there is an innate neglect of the boy and desires a change, but in reality, does not grasp where, or in what place, that should happen. Thus, we have total ignorance on one hand, and awareness with a tinge of ignorance on the other hand. These two are what the article hopes to attend to today. While explaining the idea of the International Day of the Boy, insights are provided into prevailing trends that put the boy at risk.

A key idea which featured on Teelucksingh’s mind when he demanded a recognition of a World Day of the Boy was the attention which was distributed along gender lines. For him, in as much as the challenges of young girls should not be ignored, there was no reason whatsoever to overlook that of males. This part is itself a potent cause for controversy. What would likely dominate the minds of certain activists is the centuries-old image of distrust of the masculine folk. Without the mildest of considerations, views of the boy as a violent, unthinking individual dominate discussions, missing the underlying notion that this ideal in itself is a way to maintain social order.

As much as the beliefs of an uneven scale that is unfair to females may ring true, bringing up the opposite sex to spot the distant and remote causes of this is as much a step towards equality as it is a benefit to the men folk. Thus, celebrating an International Day of the Boychild streams beyond some masculine fanfare and affects the very core of sex-determined socioeconomic relations.

Moreover, another factor which governs the life of the boy-child is the penultimate word in the preceding paragraph: socioeconomic. This portmanteau of a social and economic concept is inarguably the centre-point of any boy’s development. Since the revered days of old, any ounce of regard given to a man in the social space is determined by the amount of economic weight that he can pull. This could also be vice versa, depending on the culture or the dynamics of the situation. In our modern world of evolving views, this idea still sticks. The boy, even when lucky to grow under a liberal parentage, still realises that the society around is only willing to ascribe worth by private industrial size. In other words, he is only as valuable as the appeal he has in the market. This pressure, simplified in phrases like ‘breadwinner of the family’, ‘man of the house’, and ‘defender of his neighbourhood’, causes a strain, that one can even say, disrupts the enjoyment of life. His whole pursuit thus revolves around a desire to cross these milestones. The problem, however, is the effect of failure. And another problem from that effect, is that failure does not even have to mean that he has tried, it comes as a feeling on its own, a thought that he tarries below standard, helped along by certain depressing comments from the community. In poor areas, this is even worse.

In a bid to at least make ends meet, boys are more often than not the main propellers of criminality. Substance abuse, rape, robbery and other illicit activities give rise to far worse than the idea of survival. The resulting wreck thus becomes a burden to society, one that we would all be eager to put away.

Following the above, another idea to consider is that of male vulnerability. Due to traditional expectations which view the boy as a reservoir of emotional strength, it is often difficult to believe that the words, ‘male’ and ‘tears’, can coexist in the same sentence. A relatable instance of this would be a funeral or any sombre gathering of kinfolk, where males are the least expected to shed tears. In Yoruba settings, to which the author belongs, okùnrín ee ké, the male doesn’t cry, is a statement that rings frequently and in distinct tones. Another example is the sharo culture of the Fulani, where the man proves his strength under severe flogging. When a man caves in to tears, he is deemed weak and even unworthy of manhood. These cultures only serve to perpetuate depression and a refusal to get treatment even with obvious symptoms. It also makes it difficult for men to confide in anyone, especially people of their own sex.

The climax of these all is the potential to commit suicide. Men have been cited by the WHO as more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts. In many respects, a result of sociocultural conditioning. The International Day of the Boychild is therefore an avenue to shed light on these issues and help the boy develop along lines which are best for him.

It is also upon this premise that Boys Without Borders, an organization committed to boy-child development, was founded. Since its establishment in 2020, Boys Without Borders has sought to be a leading voice in debunking farce surrounding the boy while pushing for a recognition of his humanity. Contrary to what the name may imply, it incorporates girls who are equally passionate about the initiative’s goals.

Thus, we will be celebrating the International Day of the Boy this with a school event, bringing our volunteers and invited guest speakers with a wealth of experience to address boys on salient issues. The goal is to raise the boys’ awareness and in our little way through the school visit and assist them to be better individuals in society through the symposium. Remember that helping boys develop into functional men has as much to do with providing an enabling and understanding environment, as with reaching out to boys. The International Day of the Boychild is a day we look forward to and are happy about at Boys Without Borders.