ABUSE OF CHILDREN’S RIGHTS: AN APPRAISAL OF CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS AND UNIGWE’S ON BLACK SISTERS’ STREET
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1.1 Background of the study
The essayists and scholars have called the abuse of children’s rights a troubled childhood. Edgar Fred Nabutanyi, in his thesis titled “Representations of troubled childhood in an African fiction selected after 1990”, defines disrupted childhood as “the experience of children exposed to different forms of abuse, including physical violence, psychological, sexual and emotional “(iv). . When the rights of a child are violated, it simply means that certain privileges deemed socially or morally acceptable are harmed. Michelle Maiese said that “talking about rights allows us to express the idea that all people are part of the scope of morality and justice”. He noted that:
Protecting human rights means ensuring that people receive decent and decent human treatment. On the other hand, to violate the most fundamental human rights is to deny individuals their fundamental moral rights. In a sense, it is about treating them as if they were less than human and did not deserve respect and dignity. Examples are acts generally described as “crimes against humanity”, including genocide, torture, slavery, rape, forced sterilization or medical experimentation, and deliberate starvation. (Hubert 144)
The Longman dictionary of contemporary English gives different definitions of the word “child”: it defines “child” as “someone who is not yet an adult” and “a son or a girl of any age”. The old definition, which is “someone who is not yet adult,” implies that something is missing. “Deprivation” is a word that Heidegger uses to identify something missing at one point and Leena Kakkori in his essay “What are little children? A philosophical study of the essence of the little child from Heidegger’s concept of privation is referring “to a possibility of being and not merely to a propositional negation”, to define a child as “a human being who has a privation of adulthood.”
On the whole, children in their growth and development stage will definitely have contact with adults. These can be closely related adults like their parents, siblings, uncles, aunts etc, and naturally, these children are vulnerable to these adults in their lives as they depend on them totally for virtually everything. It is left for these adults, especially the mother and father, to protect and nurture the rights of these children. When instead of protecting these rights, “the domestic security of these children is ruptured” as Nabutanyi observes in his dissertation, “the safety of the home space and the bedroom is compromised and the cost of violence is traumatically borne by children” (92). The word ‘domestic’ usually implies the sense of protection, comfort and the place where one can feel one’s own identity.(Priya K. 52). Violation of any kind and from any direction, inflicted on children, usually affects them physically and psychologically; greater is the damage when it comes from the parents’ direction. There is a kind of parallelism in the depiction of Ama’s childhood captured in Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street with that of Kambili and Jaja in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus in terms of extremist male parent that exhibit dogmatic traits. What is also found in both books is silence of the victims and powerlessness of the female parent to prevent or protect the child from being violated or victimized upon by the father/ father figure. The violation acts inflicted on these children affect their ability to discover and be their real self. Tuomaala points out that “at home, Kambili learns to imitate her father’s behaviour and values” (2). This is naturally imperative for Kambili because doing otherwise will earn her extreme retribution from her authoritative father. Opata asserts that “Freedom is a human being’s greatest asset and right. There are many basic freedoms which are essential for the dignity and integrity of the human person…these freedoms are foundational in the formation of one’s personality…”(qtd. in Orabueze 60). When a child is violated, especially in the domestic sphere, the home becomes a cage that represses the true self of the child. The victims of child abuse or violation, in the long run, are most often tied down emotionally and psychologically to their violators (exhibiting traits or characteristics imposed on them or brought upon them by their violators) and this affects their ability to form their own personality and be their true self. After a keen observation of the lives of the children depicted in the two books to be explored in this study, it can be explicitly stated that without self-discovery, these children would remain psychologically tied down to the violence inflicted on them. While Kambili and Jaja through the help of Aunty Ifeoma are able to discover themselves, the same is not the case for Ama in Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street and this colors the choice she makes later in life. In other words, finding one’s self, as Heidegger implies in his “Being and Time”, is the key to ultimate freedom. This self-discovery is implied in one of the ‘intertwined’ Heidegerrian concepts that looks into the nature of human existence, referred to as ‘authenticity’ which Kierkegaard views as such: ““authentic existence is a herculean task requiring that we ‘choose’ ourselves in order to overcome or transcend those elements of life that we have no choice over, such as our parentage, biological makeup and place of birth” (Matthew McDonald 58).
Existentialism sheds light on the vulnerability of children in the world. Heidegger’s concept of throwness sheds light on how beings are thrown into the world, without any choice of theirs, and as children; they are totally dependent on other beings around them for their survival. These other beings can sometimes become predators to these vulnerable beings newly thrown into the world, as is the case for Kambili and Jaja, who become preys to the frequent violent outbursts of their father, Eugene in Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus while Ama in Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street falls prey to the animalistic desire of one whom she calls father. That been said, the pre-occupation of this project will be to investigate the violated states of these children and how it prevents them from being their own self and also to explore the process of their self-discovery which opened the way for the attainment of their total freedom.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The thrust of this project is to study cases of child abuse using an existentialist perspective. Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus is a widely read book that have mostly been studied for its depiction of domestic violence, most times a bulk of the study is usually centred on the woman which falls in line with womanist or feminist criticism while some other works that have studied the text using the bildungsroman concept often allegorize the oppression in the home, of the children specifically, as a representation or show glass of the nation. The concentration of the studies of Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street on the other hand, has mostly been based on diaspora or psychoanalytic theories. This project will focus on the abuse of children in toto, not as a show glass for something else; the reason for the unveiling of existentialist thoughts unto the issue of child violation is in order to acutely observe the vulnerability of children and also to see how freedom from the psychological effects of violation comes only after self-discovery has taken place.
1.3 Significance of the Study:
These two books, as far as personal research is concerned, are yet to be juxtaposed for a study of their depiction of child abuse. While Purple Hibiscus has been studied for child abuse, the studies have been based on theories like trauma theory, psychoanalytic theory, identity theory etc. This project is significant in that it applies existentialist thoughts to the treatment of child violation in both books. This allows one to be acutely aware of the extent of children’s vulnerability and how violating children’s rights lead them to live an “inauthentic existence”, which they can be free from only when they discover themselves.
1.4 Objective of the Study:
The general objective of this study is to investigate the abuse of children’s rights. Looking into the effects that these abuses have on the identity or mineness, according to Heidegger, of these children; journeying down to the moment of self realization and the process of self-discovery that resulted in the attainment of total freedom.
1.5 Scope of the Study:
Narrowing the abuse of children’s rights to the domestic sphere, the childhood lives of the characters to be studied are that of Kambili and Jaja in Purple Hibiscus and Ama in On Black Sisters’ Street. Using specifically, Heidegger’s concept of the nature of human existence.