Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On Friday afternoon, Stella Amitu, a mother of five and resident of Bukoto ran into the neighbourhood in the scorching sun in search of her children.
“I told you not to leave home, where are your siblings?” Amitu told her older daughter as the rest of her siblings dashed into a corridor possibly to hide from their charged mother.
Amitu explains that being a parent has never been easy. She, however, says that parenting has become a nightmare during the unprecedented long school closure. She says that she has to keep a keen eye on each of the children at all times to ensure they don’t fall into trouble, or take to bad behaviour.
“It is a very hard time, with schools closed, we have to look after these children all the time, but it’s very difficult,” she said. She notes that children in their neighbourhood have become too spoilt with many engaging in different immoralities.
Amitu argues that with children spending a lot of time literally doing nothing, many have fallen victims to bad peer influence since parents can’t stop them from socializing.
Just as Amitu struggles to take control of her children in a volatile area, other parents across the country are losing grip on the youngsters, which has fueled juvenile delinquency, child to child sex, child labour and child pornography.
Experts on child health and development have observed that although parenting has been a challenge to many parents and guardians in the past, the pandemic has worsened the situation. A recent study by Makerere University also showed that over 70 percent of the parents have challenges nurturing their children.
Johnson Mugaiga, one of the parents blames the parenting crisis on work. He notes that many parents, more so those in urban and semi-urban areas are busy looking for money at the expense of caring for their children whom they leave untended to or with maids.
In the absence of options, Mugaiga says working parents often leave children alone and this can lead to risky behaviours.
Many other adults interviewed for this story blamed work for their failed parenting. However, this is not representative of the general picture across the country especially in rural areas where parents remain at home or work with these children on the farm.
Some children in the rural areas have also been affected by immoralities leading to high teenage pregnancies.
Elizabeth Kisakye, an early childhood development expert, says parents cannot use working as an excuse for their failure to nurture their children. To he, school closure has just unveiled the big elephant on poor parenting in modern society.
“The lockdown presented our children a very big opportunity of being with their parents. But, many parents are still unavailable to their children. That is absurd and it has a very big effect. If these parents had a role in their children’s lives we wouldn’t be discussing this,” she observed.
Mustafa Ssebalu, a parent of seven, says that the lockdown has presented the biggest challenge to all parents as many had no idea how they can spend a long time with their children. He says that right now parents just don’t know how they can play their roles in the families.
Ssebalu extends the blame on parents who he says have failed to be good role models for their children and instead practice immorality in the face of their children.
To Geoffrey Bamu, the blame is not on individual parents as it is an indicator of a broken community. Bamu, who is a grandparent, recalls that in their infancy, child upbringing was a communal obligation where all older persons were all responsible.
Bamu says that parents have also failed to have time with their children as it used to be done over fireplaces. He says that such moments helped the parent to create a bond with their children and also understand their challenges in addition to moral counselling.
Dr. Godfrey Sui, an expert in Early Childhood Development at the Child Health and Development Center in Makerere University College of Health Sciences argues that regardless of the factors that are limiting parents from playing their roles, they are supposed to equip the children with life skills that can enable them to resist immorality and bad behaviour.
“First, parents need to readjust and think on how they can juggle work and their parental roles, but equipping children with life skills is the best since these skills will help them control themselves, resist peer pressure among other things,” Dr Sui noted. Dr Sui also advised parents to constantly communicate with their children.