Understanding the Plight of Zokos Children


If you have not read my article on Zokos, you might ask: “Who are they?” They are Liberians located all over the country, largely addicted to illicit substances and alcohol, dependent on begging for livelihood, sometimes involved in parking commercial vehicles for small sums, also at times implicated in petty crimes and living on the streets or in slums.

Many are ex-combatants or former child soldiers who are living with the recurring ill effects of the civil war and the policy neglect that came thereafter.

In recent times, they reached out to the state for intervention to address their addiction. In the article mentioned above, I suggested ways to address their addiction and mental health needs. Now, I will highlight the ways their addiction affect their children and make the case for including the children in treatment and care as well.

The repercussions of the deadly drug and alcohol epidemic in Liberia manifest in the lives of Zokos. They are the poster boys, girls, men and women of the drug problem facing Liberia. The productivity of these young adults is lost for the most part in devastating ways.

While we are able to physically see the Zokos in the streets and either feed their drug habits through small gestures like giving them a few Liberian dollars to clean our cars or to mere avoid them chasing you around along the busy Monrovia streets, the sad by-product of their disease is the neglect, abuse, and maltreatment that may be occurring behind the scenes of their children.

This national tragedy has not caught the eyes of policy makers as far as some of us know. And if it has, they are moot about the interventions designed and implemented to meet their needs.  

There is no general assumption in this article that the children of chemically-dependent people are always in danger. But at least, it is fair to say that these children face enormous livelihood risks, which many of their peers from non-chemically-dependent homes are likely prevented from, although not exclusively.

The care giving role of Zokos is sometimes compromised. Hence, the probability of being characterized by failure to act properly in the children’s best interest at school and in the community is high. As such, often times, the children face physical and emotional harm sexual abuse or exploitation.

In homes where drug is being abused, the fact that these children may be exposed to dangerous and illegal drugs is a form of maltreatment. Essentially, the needs of these children may be consistently ignored merely because the parent(s) are incapacitated.

A critical point worth mentioning is that the children of Zokos are prone to see their parents set a variety of negative parenting examples, to which the children might get accustomed, including drinking alcohol and using drugs at an early age.  Repeatedly, experts underscore that children who grow up in homes were drug abuse, alcoholism, and criminal life styles are the norm, tend to join in these illicit activities, even though not always.

The intergenerational effects of these negative tendencies should worry our social policy makers and the society at-large. It puts our future in jeopardy – if at all, “our children are our future.”

Hence, the treatment requested by Zokos, why a laudable request, cannot be attended to completely in the absence of building robust solutions aimed at breaking the intergenerational cycle amongst this population.

For the most part, these children face the negative prospects of low academic achievement, repeating grades, and sometimes dropping out totally. Because Zokos may not be able to provide the kinds of parental guidance that their children deserve, they possibly will not be able to read, spell or do math in age-appropriate ways compared to their peers who come from much stable families.

No doubt, there are cases where children from these homes can be resilient and overcome their vulnerabilities.

Therefore, the plight of all these children cannot be resigned to exclusive failure. Yet still, it remains crucial that government and other national stakeholders set a new pathway to address the holistic needs of Zokos and the children or families.

Unfortunately, there is a general lack of systemic research that has investigated the effects of parental drug and alcohol abuse on the children of Zokos.

A program built to address Zokos’ needs must in tandem examine the needs of their children in such areas as their possible anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems, even their skill deficits.

These children may be detached from their parents possibly because they are often reared by strangers or simply self-reared. They may not be accustomed to the warmth that “regular” parents provide to their kids or be sensitive to their needs or even discipline them appropriately.

Even worse, that many of these children might encounter risks of acute poor nutrition mires their lives in many ways including stunted growth and development.

In a society where there is no food aid for the poor, the children of Zokos risk going to sleep hungry on many occasions and concurrently under the dark cloud of second hand smoke emanating from illicit drugs. What a pithy?

Essentially, should the government or any of the stakeholders intervene in the lives of Zokos, it will be mandatory to include their children.

Leaving the children out of any rehabilitation program will undermine the sustainability of that intervention.

Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D., Contributing Writer