Celebrating International Day of the Boy Child in SA

Celebrating International Day of the Boy Child in SA
Celebrating International Day of the Boy Child in SA

In societies striving towards improved gender equity, enhanced safety and fair opportunities for women and girls, it can be common to overlook the needs and challenges of today’s boys. Concerns are rising at the popularity amongst school-age boys of social media influencers who openly and vigorously promote the doctrines of toxic masculinity, including gender-based violence.

In South Africa, the prevalence of poverty, crime, gangsterism and substance abuse affects millions of home environments where families are trying hard to raise boys to be good men. But most striking in this country is that 70% of South African children are growing up in single-parent homes, and 4 out of 5 boys don’t have even one consistent, positive male role model in their lives. Fatherless boys, and boys growing up without any meaningful connection to caring adult males are more vulnerable to making heroes of so-called ‘alpha male’ influencers, or the local gangster bosses driving flashy cars around in their communities.

International Boy’s Day, also known as the Day of the Boy Child is celebrated every year on the 16th of May. It’s a reminder that boys too, need our support and care for their well-being. An unintended consequence of the keen focus on making much-needed gender equity progress for girls can be that there are boys who get left behind. International Boy’s Day was ratified by the United Nations in 2018, not to compete with the Day of the Girl Child, but to complement it and ensure inclusivity.

Jaco van Schalkwyk, the Founder and CEO of The Character Company (TCC), a non-profit organisation working with fatherless boys, says, “It’s important that we also pay attention to the circumstances and challenges of South African boys. Broken masculinity is associated with South Africa’s high rates of gender-based violence, crime, gangsterism, substance abuse and other mental disorders. It helps everyone in society when boys are also happy and healthy, safe and valued within their family and community. We cannot continue to ignore the boy child and then be surprised that he becomes a product of the examples we set in society.  If we want our young men to do better, we need to model better.”

TCC runs a countrywide, mentorship program, connecting fatherless boys with volunteer male mentors who help them to live by values such as kindness, honesty, respect, courage and self-discipline.  The program includes boys frequently meeting up with their mentors and participating in healthy, outdoors-based events such as weekend camps and adventure trips. Mentoring is proven strategy which can help young people improve performance at school, as well as their impulse control, attitudes, behaviours and interpersonal skills.  The intervention helps reduce school absenteeism, bullying and risky behaviours.  It can boost self-esteem and confidence, which is critical to fatherless boys who carry a heavy burden of shame.

Mental health conditions often manifest differently along gender lines. While girls more frequently report on certain mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, boys have higher suicide rates. Society’s expectations of masculinity, particularly when it comes to expressing emotions and vulnerability may stand in the way of boys articulating their mental health struggles and getting support and care on time.  They are therefore, at higher risk of severe outcomes due to mental health challenges.

In celebration of International Boy’s Day on 16 May 2024, Jaco will be joining Nobantu Mqulwana on NPO Bootcamp for a 4-part conversation on the challenges facing South Africa’s fatherless boys. He shares his own story of growing up with an absent father, as well as his vast experience and expertise when it comes to solutions such as the TCC mentorship program. https://www.youtube.com/@npobootcamp

Learn more about The Character Company