Infantism: The Child in Literature and Society

I proposed infantism in a 2008 publication entitled The Infantist Manifesto: An Excursion on Infant Criticism. I was then a final year/outgoing student of the Department of English, University of Uyo. The publication was a culmination and a distillation of all my experiences as a young person up to that point in my existence as well as all my scholarly exposures. I was blessed to have had teachers whose lectures generated meaningful discussions during which views and counter views could be aired. I must say that the thought to formalise infantism was conceived in a gender studies class when I considered some of the fallouts of feminist discourses on family and marriage. It occurred to me then that in the war of the two genders, the child is usually the one who suffers the most. When the man and the woman have a disagreement in the home and the quality of the marriage is affected, the case can be likened to when two elephants fight and only the grass bears the brunt of the discord. Thus, the questions that I kept asking myself were, ‘where is the child in all of these?’ Who will fight for the child? These and other related questions kept coming to me until the idea to formalise infantism was born.

I realised earlier in life that nothing ever happens without an idea or ideology. All events and situations in the world have ideologies behind them. Ideas then are the bases for human action. If the child must be liberated, I knew then that a set of ideas had to be put together to act as a blueprint and/or motivation for that liberation. The Infantist Manifesto was published at a time when Nigeria was beginning to create awareness on children’s rights. For instance, the Child’s Rights Act had been passed in 2003 by the National Assembly, but it was yet to be domesticated by many states of the Federation including Akwa Ibom. It was shortly after the public presentation of The Infantist Manifesto that the then Governor, His Excellency Chief Godswill Akpabio, signed the Act into law in Akwa Ibom State on the 5th of December 2008. I am glad that The Infantist Manifesto helped to create awareness on the rights of the child in Akwa Ibom State, if not Nigeria. I remain grateful to everyone who was involved in the publication and promotion of the book and its ideals, especially to Mrs Elsie Udofia, MNIPR, Pastor Michael Bush, Mr James Edet, Mrs Mercy David and Mrs Comfort Umanah.

In this essay, I am interested in explaining the societal and literary ends of infantism. I know that, thanks to all the child’s rights activists and institutions, more people have become aware of the child’s existence and their rights. However, as the greed and wickedness of man evolve, tracking children’s rights issues have become more challenging, which means that the task of protecting the child has also become more onerous, especially given recent events in our polity where those who should protect the child have turned out to be the ones who kill and destroy them. Ideologically, I know that we need to evolve more sophisticated theories to account for the child’s situation in our time and clime, and I must say that revising The Infantist Manifesto is one of my postdoctoral projects whenever I get the time and the resources to do so. In the meantime, let me undertake a recap of the theory’s exegesis in this essay as captured in the book.

I define infantism as a child-conscious movement and literary theory. I am not sure and cannot say that as a movement the word ‘infantism’ has caught on. But I do perceive of all events where the child’s agency is depicted as ‘infantist’. Of course, we have a preponderance of such child agential events in our world today. Even in The Infantist Manifesto I attempted to point out instances where children in the early year 2000s had shown that they were not to be looked down upon. Such phenomena have only grown in quality and quantity over time. It has been asserted in evidential terms that children can even be more talented than the adults when nurtured in the right environments. Take for instance the child-comedienne and actor, Emmanuella Samuel, and the Ghanaian child disc jockey, Erica Armah Bra-Bulu Tandoh (DJ Switch). Of course, I am a big fan! In Akwa Ibom we had (and still have) Ofonime Felix Okon (Udo Mariam) who mesmerised the world with his xylophone skills until he was adopted by the late First Lady, Mrs Maryam Babangida. In recent times, we have had children take up causes that the adults themselves have been found wanting in. For instance, a group of children eloquently spoke truth to power at the United Nations gathering in 2019 on issues bordering on children’s rights and climate change. These examples are the extreme heights that we can go to in convincing the adult world that children are also human beings with capabilities that make them deserving of love and respect, apart from the fact that they, as children, do not even need to go to great lengths in order to earn these human sentiments. It is a natural right.

As a movement, infantism moves against all forms of abuses directed at children in society. It seeks to enthrone practices that make for a safer world for children and their growth. It denounces practices that demean the person and the image of the child. One of these is the use of what I call childist language for purposes of representation. For instance, many adults are fond of saying that a particular person is ‘childish’ or behaves like a child, as if it is something bad to be a child! Thus, just as we have sexist language, there is also childist or age-biased language. Y’all had better avoid it. A child should not be exposed to hard labour, should not be physically, sexually, emotionally and psychologically abused. Indeed, we are gradually unravelling the psychological ramifications of exploitation and abuses, and hence beginning to understand the import of the traumas many adults go around with arising from childhood abuses. There is so much to be done in this area in terms of societal awareness because ignorance is the greatest factor in the replication of abusive situations from generation to generation. I sincerely believe that a lot of lives could be saved if campaigns are sustained to educate people that even raising a voice against a child could have future traumatic consequences. There is a place of discipline in the life of a child, but the discipline should be done with love and care and not with spite and wickedness.

In literature, infantism begins by assuming that just as the child is marginalised in society, he or she is also written to the periphery of the literary text. The social world and its ideologies are basically adult-centric (adult-centered). The first persons to write were adults, first men then women, and so they were able to perpetrate themselves in the text to the detriment of the child. Infantism therefore seeks to help children occupy a more central position in the textual world, just as agitations are ongoing to make children the centre of our extra-literary world. Thus, an infantist writer is one who writes to centrally position the character of the child in the literary text, while the infantist critic is one who glamours for the centralisation of children and their issues in works of literature and the other arts. The infantist critic also condemns those authors who marginalise children in terms of textual existence and positionality, and seeks to critique the representation or portrayal of children in works of art. I have equally raised the issue of whether adults themselves are qualified to write for children, or whether children’s experiences shouldn’t better be expressed by the children themselves. This is discussed under what should constitute children’s literature in the infantist creed. There are many children writers who have caught the world’s attention through their writings. A good example is Alexandra Adornetto who wrote The Shadow Thief when she was just thirteen years of age. I wrote my first novella, Past Echoes, as a senior secondary school student. Johnson Nte’ne published Lines of Mystery as a secondary school student. All these attest to the fact that children can write their own stories and that what we conceive as children’s literature should be the literature written by children, and not the literature written by adults for children.   

In sum, infantism advocates the rights of the child in literature and society with the aim of making the world more infant-centric. An infant-centric world is one that is conscious of the child and their developmental issues. The theory calls on individuals to view life and the world generally from the perspective of children. This means that everyone should be an infantist, one who takes children and their welfare into consideration in their day-to-day activities and major life decision-making. An infantist politician is one who is careful to make policies and developmental decisions that will ensure a better world for the child. Such a politician will not loot the treasury, neither will they sponsor violence in society. Such a politician will adequately fund education and provide enabling environment for the children to learn and grow into responsible members of society.

When parents are infant-centric they will work assiduously to create a safe environment at home for the child, provide for them and do everything possible to make the marriage work since they have understood the consequences of single-parenting and how negatively they impact the growth of the child. When the motorist is child-conscious, he will not drink and drive so as not to endanger the lives of school children on the road. It is also important for him to return home safely in the evening since his children will need him. It can then be seen that everyone in society needs to be an infantist because the child ideology will guide and direct their actions towards making the world, in the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s song, ‘a better place for you and for me’. I am an infantist. You should be an infantist.  

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