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Should it Take a Village?

July 28, 2011 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

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You’ve probably heard the old African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child”. However, it is doubtful that the person who first coined the phrase meant for anyone to take it literally.  It is true that raising a child, especially one who is considerate of others and mindful of being a contributing member of society, is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Yet still, in most parts of the world, a child’s parents are the primary caregivers and the ones responsible for raising the life that both brought into the world.

Conversely, there are several parts of the world where parents enlist a veritable army to assist in the raising of their children. In many parts of the Middle East for example, having a team of caregivers right in the comfort of your own home is a staple of the Arab culture. Chefs, chauffeurs, housemaids and nannies are the primary job titles that many families seek to fill even before junior is born. The annual surplus oil revenues that Middle Eastern countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman enjoy has paved the way for a life of ease for nationals. Why change dirty diapers or fool around with play time when you can hire someone to do it for you?

As a result, many children in the region are raised almost exclusively by their caregivers with ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ taking a backseat to the care of their child. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the gilded streets of the wealthy Gulf nations. Parents can be seen strolling hand in hand along sun-kissed beaches while a trio of nannies keep junior out of trouble or merely cart him around. Playgrounds are often full of rambunctious kids busily playing their hearts out. However, something is clearly wrong with the picture as nannies keep an eye on their wards instead of the parents. For many children in the region, there is not a parent around to watch their amazing feat on the jungle gym or one to snap a photo as he glides down a slide.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of a reliance on caregivers is that most are unqualified for the job. Most of the household staff enlisted to help raise the children of a family come from Southeast Asia. They are typically poor, uneducated and semi-skilled laborers that do not possess the skills, and often temperament, to raise children. There have been countless cases of housemaids and nannies turning on their charges, sometimes fatally, in recent years. Some cases revealed an abundance of housemaids and nannies physically abusing the children that they were supposed to protect. Worse yet, some have even gone as far as to poison or otherwise murder the children they were hired to raise.

A professor at Qatar University recently shed light on the issue in a recent discussion that attributed a host of societal ills that are linked to children being raised by household staff. Professor Rabia Sabah Al Kuwari said, “This phenomenon is prevalent in the Arab societies. In other countries such as Holland, for instance, there are no household helpers.” Al Kuwari also went on to say that some of the problems associated with relying on paid staff to raise a child include a lack of affection between a parent and child as well as learning deficiencies that will most likely affect the child for his lifetime.

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