Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changing Transition to Adulthood in Urban Burkina Faso

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changing Transition to Adulthood in Urban Burkina Faso

Article excerpt


In Burkina Faso, like in many other sub-Saharan African countries, the socialization of children into adult life was traditionally marked by a series of symbolic and educational steps and was the responsibility of the entire community. Among the Mossi ethnic group, for instance, the initiation camp and accompanying circumcision ceremony gave young men the right to be accepted among adults, receive land, leave the parental home and marry (Gruénais, 1985). For both men and women, marriage was a crucial step in this ritualized path to adulthood. Girls generally married and had their first child at a very young age, and the period between childhood and adulthood was very short or even non-existent. Though young men married later, they had little control over the marital process, as marriage was an agreement between two families rather than a contract between two individuals.

This traditional pattern of transition to adulthood has gradually been eroded by urbanization and modern education. In the 1960s, a growing number of youth started migrating to urban centers for employment or schooling. Formal education soon became the principal agent for socializing and training the next generation. Migration to cities and wage employment provided youth with hewfound independence from parents and from the kinship group (Pascalis, 1992). Like in other African cities, urban young men and women in Burkina Faso also increasingly postpone their first marriage in order to finish their education (Tabutin & Schoumaker, 2004). Thus, the period between childhood and adulthood has lengthened and "youth" has begun to emerge as a specific social segment of the population.

The economic stagnation of the economy in the 1990s has further promoted the recognition of youth as a distinct social group that deserves the attention of both researchers and policy makers. In fact, young people in Burkina Faso, as in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, have been strongly affected by the economic recession and the accompanying structural adjustment programs. One can speak of a multidimensional crisis that has altered all aspects of youth life. On the education front, first, youth are increasingly dropping out of school because of financial difficulties (Kobiané, 1999). Unemployment among urban young people has also risen dramatically (Calves & Schoumaker, 2004). The economic crisis seems to have reduced the quality of available jobs as well, and new generations of young Africans are increasingly turning to less profitable and less stable economic activities in the informal sector of the economy (Charmes, 1996). Access to residential independence and marriage seem also to have become more difficult, and qualitative data suggest that a growing number of Burkinabe youth are forced to stay with their parents and remain single because of their lack of financial means (Sévédé Bardem, 1998). With the postponement of marriage, premarital births seem also to increase (CERPOD, 1996).

Despite these multiple indications of change, the topic of how the transition to adulthood is changing remains poorly documented in Burkina Faso. Like in many other developing countries, the period between childhood and adulthood is a phase of life that has only recently begun to receive focused attention (NRC & Institute of Medecine, 2005). Generally, when studied, the events that make up the transition to adulthood are also examined separately and research has rarely provided an overall picture of the changes in youth educational, professional, residential and familial trajectories. Part of the reason is that, unlike research on the topic carried out in industrialized societies (Furstenberg, 2000), studies focusing on youth in sub-Saharan Africa rarely rely on longitudinal or retrospective biographical data when examining the transition to adulthood.

Yet, in a country such as Burkina Faso where the total number of 15-24 year olds constitutes nearly 21 percent of the population and where 48. …

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