The African Family is Suffering in Silence, Scholars Establish in Inaugural Study

A poster for the official presentation of the first draft report on Family and Relational Poverty by the International Family Monitor on Tuesday, June 23.
Credit: International Family Monitor

The family, in its fragile nature, is suffering in silence, scholars from Catholic institutions in Africa who joined their colleagues from other parts of the world for a virtual meeting that was streamed from Rome have said.

The Tuesday, June 23 event was organized by Family International Monitor, an international research project, to share preliminary findings of a study dubbed “Family and relational poverty,” which was launched in May 2019 as part of a three-year study.

Participants in the virtual event included scholars from different research institutions in Benin, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, Qatar, Chile, India, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, and Spain.

Speaking in an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the event, Dr. Beatrice Churu who is the Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Tangaza University College (TUC) in Kenya said families in Africa have been denied a voice, and that the situation is killing the society.

“Families, with their specific challenges and questions do not have a forum where they can speak, not in Church, not in the public domain and not in political forums. We speak of gender, we speak of women, we speak of youth but we don’t speak of families,” said Dr. Churu in an interview with ACI Africa on Wednesday, June 24, a day after the meeting.

She added, “We really need to start to think of ourselves as family people irrespective of what kinds of families we have.”

Dr. Churu who also lectures at TUC’s Institute of Youth Studies said that in Kenyan urban areas, single-parent families were on the rise as opposed to two-parent families and that the trend is spreading across the East African country.

She said that people will begin to understand the implications of rising cases of single-parenthood from an experiential perspective.

“Such knowledge and experience will inform the pastoral practices as well as policy making at the public level,” she said.

Highlighting the importance of the survey in his opening remarks at the meeting, the President of the Family International Monitor, Mons. Vincenzo Paglia said families were a reflection of all other aspects of society.

“As we all know, families play a decisive role for society. We can say that they literally keep it alive,” Mons. Paglia told about 70 attendees who logged into the virtual meeting.

He added, “Families, in all their different articulations, are the foundation of every society, and from their state of health we can deduce the degree of economic, social and existential well-being and prosperity in society.”

The Chancellor of the Rome-based John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science said that scholars who were engaged in the study will be churning out “continuous scientific research on the specific reality that families live in different parts of the world.”

Other participants who addressed the meeting were the President of John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science, Mons. Pierangelo Sequeri, José Luis Mendoza Pérez from the Catholic University of Murcia, and Francesco Belletti, Director of the International Centre for Family Studies in Milan, among others.

Most speakers were officials of Family International Monitor, a project started in 2018 by John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science in partnership with the Catholic University of Murcia in Spain.

Ms. Imelda Diouf from Sekwele Centre for Family Studies in South Africa and Prof. Juan Pablo Faùndez Allier from the Ecclesiastic Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaiso in Chile also made their presentations in the one-hour meeting.

Mons. Paglia explained that the researchers had chosen to inaugurate their academic work starting from the topic “Family and of relational poverty”, and next year to focus on the relationship between “Family and economic poverty.”

The research project relies on a questionnaire that was drafted by the central team of researchers from the 11 countries who held an expert meeting in Rome, May 2019. Each country was then required to adopt the model to local contexts to produce local results.

The researchers from the three African countries who participated in the study pegged their findings on the challenges that threaten families on the continent.

In Kenya, the researchers express concern over the high number of vulnerable children, with an estimated 8.6 children either orphaned or deprived of adequate material, social and emotional needs. Some 3.6 million rural children are classified as vulnerable where 646,887 are double orphans, 2.6 million are single orphans. Of these, at least 1 million have lost their parents to HIV/ Aids related conditions.

It is important that everyone thinks family as a unit to be addressed because “we address the individual, we address women, we address young people, children, the boy child, the girl child but we also need to address the family which gives identity to the individuals,” Dr. Churu said.

According to the Kenyan scholar, everything in society falls apart when family falls apart, underscoring the need for academic institutions to create scope and space for family studies and family education.

Africans live in their authenticity as based in their families, in their small communities, in their villages, neighborhoods and such social groups, according to the Kenyan scholar.

She says that where people are fragmented in their families by religion, different political party affiliations and other systems, the family still has the highest chance of strengthening society.

Unfortunately, economies of African countries do not prioritize family, according to the Dean.

“People leave their families at 5 in the morning because they have to be at work by 8 and by the time they get back home, children are asleep. Families have no life,” she said and added, “They could shorten our working days to save our lives. We could make our work places more family friendly.”

She further said that COVID-19 has taught people that they can work from home and still be very productive while spending time with family.

“We talk about marriages with an emphasis on sacramentalization but never on family life. Sacraments are supposed to help us live our lives; not just have sacraments but we don’t have life,” she said.

She lamented that in Africa, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the child to be part of a family, saying, “The child is never really with family from as early as the mother goes back to work. We prioritize other things but family is never in our way of doing things.”

African renaissance, the awakening of Ubuntu and all other reawakenings that characterize reconstruction in Africa “won’t go far without family,” Dr. Churu said and added, “Suicide rates, depression and other social ills are on the rise because the family has been made very weak. If we can strengthen our families, we shall give a secure foundation to the reconstruction that we are so keen about.”

On her part, Ms. Imelda Diouf from Sekwele Centre for Family Studies in South Africa who also participated in the study said that COVID-19 has provided an opportune time for families to be strengthened.

“If ever there was a moment in post-apartheid South African history, when the role of family should be advocated for, now is that moment,” Ms. Diouf said in an editorial to International Family Monitor.

“Putting on the family lens provides an opportunity to look beyond Covid-19,” she said and added, “South Africa must pay attention to placing families at the centre of development.”


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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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