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The International Writers Magazine: DIVORCE and CHILDREN in Nigeria

A future wrecked by divorce
• Odimegwu Onwumere
Tom was four years old when his parents were divorced in 2012, he did not go to school in the following year due to the degenerating home situation.


Tom's family resided in Oyigbo, a suburb of Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, during the time of their troubles. His parents fought over who should take custody of the boy. While doing so, they did not take into cognizance the opinion by experts on marital challenges that parents' divorce will mean breaking of trust among their children. What is on the mind of every child is to see their family being stable.

Given the situation, Tom's parents did not recognize the anxiety their separation from marriage was causing him. His hope was shattered. No professional counselling or approaches seemed to be in place to tame and manage the experiences of Separation Anxiety Disorder that supervened. Ugo’s parents later went back to court and were cleared on who should take custody of the young boy. Making clear the security and care for Tom by the court Tom will go to school again by living with his mother.

Tom had to start going to school again in 2014. Although, his mother won the custody of keeping him, the impact of the divorce was still visible. The young Tom was always upset by the issue of separation. He hardly kept useful routine at home. This was because he could not maximize the benefits he needed from both parents he would have loved to live together. Unpredictability and poor structure caused by the separation of his parents was quickly weighing him down.

Divorce has negative effects on children's education. It highlights the impact of physical, emotional, cognitive, moral and educational effects on the children. The single parent no longer has ample time for the children and they fall victim of many antisocial behaviours from peer groups. Parenting as a single household is increasingly under pressure to do better and save children faced with stressful lives of here today with a mother and there tomorrow with a father in shared time lines.

Coming to terms with a high rate of divorce in society these days, many children in Nigeria are being exposed to divorce that many had to repeat class over and over. In the event that children from divorced backgrounds did not drop out from school in its entirety, a child is easily trapped with poor school performance and repeating of classes. They are subjected by their parents’ divorce to experience rejection, trouncing of love and bodily injury. In school, they show traits of urchins, because they were not given attention and, are made to be unhappy. The impact of divorce on children is no easy emotional and stressful development.

Such children with divorce experiences may engage in drugs and other social crimes such as petty stealing, suicide, murder. They suffer the psychological and social issues of their parents’ divorce anywhere they went. Some of them show serious mental health outcomes to deal with. The consequence of which will give their school authorities a handful of troubles that they cannot contain. Many suffer from delayed learning process; while others who are not in bodily contact with each of their parents, may fail to equal the level of the educational achievements of their parent.

The list of challenges on children caused by divorce is a long one. The least of the effects that children of school going age may suffer in divorce situations in Nigeria can range from poverty to traumatic health imbalances. In the so-called civilized climes, children who are suffering from psychological traumas, as a result of divorce, are subjected to undergo psycho-educational testing. But in Nigeria they drop out of school, due to the lackadaisical approach with which governments at all levels handle the issues pertaining to educators and parents.

Apart from that, there is hardly any role of the government to determine the life of a child's uneasiness at school. Just recently, the Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, in Nigeria, Professor Hassana Alidou at a launch of the Education For All, EFA, Global Monitoring Report, GMR, said that Nigeria has some of the worst educational indicators in the world.

UNESCO’s representative in Nigeria disclosed that the menace is already costing governments $129 billion a year; ten per cent of the global spending is on primary education, yet, hardly a child out of four children can read a single sentence or solve a simple mathematics. UNESCO feared that it would take poorest young women in developing countries of Asia and Africa until 2072, for all to be literate.

This is coming after the body lamented in a report that over 10 million Nigerian children of school age are not in school. It is observable that children from divorced homes have inattentive and uncooperative manners and are beleaguered at school. And while these children suffer learning processes, hardly has any school in the country appropriately engaged a school psychologist that could examine the child and offer some appropriate counseling measures in order to place the child properly in school.

It is known that some schools attempt to say they have school counselors, who may have read such courses at school, but they are not professionals, who could have responsibility of a department, as observers and analyzers of troubles associated with behaviours of concern related to divorce at school. Factors that most times put the children’s academic future in danger could be itemized under frivolities of divorce.

Lately, a 50 year old business man whose name was given as Mr. Saliu Adesokan reportedly implored an Igando Customary Court in Lagos to dissolve his 17-year-old marriage to his wife, Jumoke Adesokan, for switching his children to Christianity. According to comments credited to Mr. Adesokan, he had enrolled his children in an Islamic school, but his wife withdrew them from the school and took them to church. But the wife, whose age was given at 45, said that it was the children, who on their own preferred attending church and, that she had no hand in their choice for church.

Investigation revealed that Mr. Adesokan had divorced his first two wives claiming that they had bad conduct; a case that Jumoke said that her step daughters were making life depressing for her and had turned her into a knocking bag. According to her, “If I report them to my husband, what he always says is that leave them, they will soon go to their husband’s houses, he will not even scold them.”

On March 5, 2014, Mr. Yusuf Abdulkareem, an Ilorin Upper Area Court Judge, apparently decried the high rate of divorce in the country and how it is disadvantageous to the future of children. Abdulkareem made this disclosure in Ilorin. He informed newsmen: “Children become wayward and unsecure as soon as their parents dissolve their marriage, because two good hands are better than one in training a child. You see children going into prostitution, armed robbery and other terrible acts just because their parents are no more together and they see themselves as being hopeless.”

The irony of divorce is that while the couple enjoys the attention they sought for in the hands of the authorities, the children do not, from such marriage. It is visible that children respond to divorce differently, depending on their gender, age and juncture of development. They have a feeling that since their parents could not stay together it was imperative that they did not love themselves.

Divorce is a current social crisis in Nigeria that is affecting children's education. From across the regions – East, West, South and North – the story is the same. Northern areas of Nigeria continue to be hit by the nuisances of insurgents and divorce. The plague called almajiri could not be a product only created by the Islamic education system in the north, but, also, by failed marriages and family values.

Freshly, the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of President Jonathan Goodluck government instituted Almajiri Education Programme in order to tackle the menace. But how seriously the nineteen states in the north and the Muslim clerics are that the almajiris utilize the school system modeled in a Western education form, does not meet the eyes.

According to a source: “The nineteen states in the north have had little success in containing the problem of the almajiris, facing strong resistance from Muslim clerics in the more traditional Muslim states of the north against any policy that is seen to restrict the operations of Islamic schools that are the source of these almajiris.”

The source was worried that the high rate of divorce in that region of the country is telling on children. The source also informed that since Muslims form the large part of the population of the north and are authorized to marry more than one wife, polygamy is rife “with 38% of those in rural areas and 22% of those in urban areas in polygamous marriages.”

Not even the religious and civic and traditional orders on marriage have helped the Nigerian children from being the most affected in divorce. Such children will most often hawk and beg, on the streets, to augment their income for wellbeing. The Universal Basic Education scheme (UBE) has a limit in funding the basic school, let alone, the children who are financially constrained.

It is unclear how the Matrimonial Causes Act enacted in 1970 has saved or is saving marriages in the country. The Act was primarily formulated to address the issue of dissolution of marriages under three separate laws. Social pundits apparently regret that what the Act had mainly focused on was to register more marriages than to solve the problem of dissolution of marriages.

One Rita Gonyok who was a youth corper with National Press Centre, Abuja, on 10 July 2008 advised that parents who propose to divorce should take their children’s security and their stability into consideration in order not to jeopardize their future. She warned that there is no loss that is heavier and that could be measured in both parents and the children than that of contested and devastating divorce.

She frowned at divorce because, according to her, it causes the children untold stress, complications in sleeping, problems in schooling, nervous habits, recurring physical behaviours, and a relapse of episodes of behaviours. The dangers of such emotional stresses will result in bed-wetting, fears, and at randomly taking solace in undesirable pastime activities to wreck their future.

In Gonyok’s strong view, children may become clingy and whiny and they may need greater understanding of their moods and behaviour. She warned that children have a greater need to be nurtured; but failure of which may in turn impose greater need to "take care" of their parents. She added that giving up one's childhood to care for emotionally troubled parents is an all-encompassing characteristic outcome in children of divorced family.

The outcome of disturbed emotions translates into behaviours of concern that impede learning and positive contribution to one’s society. This is more noticeable among children challenged with circumstances of their parental divorce. By experiencing children faced with sporadic and planned divorce, educators in Nigeria must truly find ways to work with professionals in the field of child education and complex needs to make them better persons through balanced psychological, supportive and positive behaviour approaches.

© Odimegwu Onwumere June 2014
is a Poet/Writer based in Rivers State.

Councelling Advice for children affected by divorce

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