On the 12th of October 2013, about 350 African parents, young people, children, faith and community leaders as well as professionals who work with African families will converge in London at a special Summit organised by my charity AFRUCA to deliberate on some of the key issues faced by families across the capital. This is a very timely event necessitated by many recent developments in the African community.
Our work at AFRUCA shows an increasing number of children who are being removed from their families as a result of physical abuse. We continue to have parents come to see us at our offices asking for help and support to get their children from local authorities across the country. These are families whose actions are seen to be at odds with the laws of the UK in relation to how children are brought up. Our parents living in this country still believe in the power of the cane to solve problems – forgetting it is an offence to use an implement to beat a child. It is important that as many parents as possible understand the risks involved when they beat their children. I have worked with families where four children have been removed because a child in the family was beaten by a parent. The other children are deemed to be at risk of abuse as a result. This is an issue that will be covered by our Summit on the 12th of October. We want parents to debate this issue and understand the alternatives that can be used to discipline children without any need to beat them.
Another issue which is quite worrisome is the rate of break-up of families across the capital. African families are not immuned from this. The recession is having a terrible impact on many families, due to loss of employment and reduced income, housing issues, immigration problems and many other factors. Many parents are finding it harder to cope and this leads to stress within the family. Parents become hostile to each other, they fight each other and many families are experiencing conflict as a result. Children in such families also experience emotional abuse, seeing their parents constantly fight each other. It is essential to address this issue and give families tips and advice on how to prevent conflict in the home no matter the pressure. We will address this topic as part of the Summit on the 12th of October.
One of the most terrible developments being experienced by our young people is the increasing rate of mortality as a result of gang warfare on the streets of London. This year alone, at least 10 young people have been killed by other young Africans on the streets of London as a result of gun and knife crime. African children are killing each other. Young people of African origin are being sentenced to life imprisonment for killing other young people. This is a very crucial issue to be addressed as a matter of extreme urgency hence its inclusion in the programme at the Summit.
The challenge of living in a new or different country with all its intricacies and complexities is taking its toll on many parents. Increasingly, adult Africans as well as children and young people are becoming over represented in the mental health system. More and more Africans are being sectioned by the mental health system. Many parents who have mental health problems also end up with other challenges including having their children removed by the local authority due to their inability to guarantee the children’s wellbeing. Immigration problems and other social challenges are key factors leading to many people developing mental health problems. We have invited some professionals to help provide tips to participants at the Summit on how to deal with stress and other challenges.
The cultural differences in the way children are brought up, the conflict between tradition and modernisation, the problem of identity experienced by many of our young people, the challenges of bringing up children who are more “street wise” than their parents lead to conflict and inability to communicate effectively. Many parents experience a lot of anguish due to their inability to “bond” with their children. This vacuum leads to children and young people looking for alternative albeit the wrong ways to satisfy their needs for support, acceptance and a “family”, leading often times to conflict with the law. It is important that the causes of these key issues are addressed. For this reason, we are also holding a special Intergenerational Forum of parents and young people as part of the Summit to enable a frank and open discussion so that we can jointly find solutions to this particularly difficult issue.
AFRUCA’s Summit on African Families on 12th October is billed to be an example of a community taking ownership of its problems and working hard to find solutions to address them. We are happy to be involved in such a historic event because we do know from enquiries received that many people see this as a very good development. We expect that participants at the Summit will spend the day sharing knowledge, ideas and professing solutions to help support families who are facing challenges. At the end of the day, we hope that this event will help galvanise further action to support families who need help in order to protect our children and improve their welfare.
Debbie Ariyo OBE is Executive Director of AFRUCA. For further information about the Summit on African Families in London holding on 12 October 2013, visit AFRUCA website at www.afruca.org