Cross-Cultural Communication from Mali
Living with Relatives
In many parts of Africa it is normal for children to leave their
mothers and fathers, for years at a time, and go to live with
uncles and aunts or other members of their extended family. The
idea of letting someone else bring up your child seems extraordinary
in the West, and therefore we thought we would shed some light on
the practise in this Cross-Cultural Communication.
Although very occasionally this kind of child "adoption" turns out to be little more than slavery, sometimes involving pyschological or physical abuse of the child, or leading to early marriage or teenage pregnancy, in most cases moving in with wealthier relatives means that the child gains an education or opportunities which, for economic reasons, would not have been possible had they stayed with their parents. "Adoption" is undertaken for many reasons. These include: caring for an orphaned child where either one or both parents have died, looking after a child whose parents are divorced and whose mother cannot cope alone, consolidating extended family relationships, and those between individuals and communitites, and providing a child with an education and professional training.
The "adopted" child is not usually involved in the decision about whether or not he or she moves to the house of a relative. However they do keep in touch with, and visit their parents and siblings. Below is the story of one little girl, where moving in with relatives has had many positive effects on her life.
Bintou is a ten year old sponsored child who lived with her parents in a village called Djebougou. Her family were too poor to provide her with any education and she spent her days helping her mother with household chores - cooking, cleaning and looking after the younger children. Unfortunately Bintou's father died earlier this year and her mother remarried. At this point, Bintou's uncle adopted her and she moved to his village to live with him and his family.
At first everything was strange and Bintou felt lonely, abandoned and anxious. She particularly missed her mother. She also missed her friends and had no-one to play with or talk to in her new home. Unknown to her, however, this move heralded a new life full of promises.
Little by little Bintou became familiar with her aunt and uncle and her cousins. She is treated by all as a member of the family, and considered to be a sister rather than a cousin, and a daughter rather than a niece. Her uncle has more money than her own parents had and has educated all of his children. He therefore believed Bintou should also receive an education, and enrolled her at the village DEC, or Development Education Centre. This centre is supported by Plan, and is a place which teaches children who are too old to take part in formal schooling - either because they've never been, or because they've dropped out. Here, Bintou has learned to read and write, has been taught maths, and when she is older will acquire basic professional skills. She might choose from such areas as soap making or fabric dyeing; and her male contemporaries from carpentry, masonry or mechanics.
Because of her new family, and the facilities provided by Plan sponsors, Bintou's future now has many more options than it did when she lived with her parents in Djebougou.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this Cross-Cultural Communication and would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support.
This page last updated: 19 July 2004
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