The Unethical Nature of Abuse of Childless Women in African Traditional Thought/Practice

  • Mark Omorovie Ikeke Delta State University
Keywords: Confronting Marriages, African Traditional, Challenge of Marriage, Childlessness, Cultural Practices, Unethical Treatments
Share Article:


One of the major challenges confronting marriages and families in African from the past to the present is the issue of barrenness or childlessness. Childlessness was often blamed on the woman, even though at times it may arise from the medical conditions of a man. African traditional culture had great value for children and childless marriage was seen as cursed and the woman in particular was even labelled a “man” or a witch. The woman is often verbally abused, and physical violence was meted on her. The marriage is often made unbearable and uncomfortable for the woman by the man or the in-laws of the woman. In some exceptional cases, the man and his relatives were understanding and coped with the situation or the man was allowed to marry another woman, while bearing with the childless woman. In order to cope with the challenge of childlessness women even encouraged their husbands to marry another woman (women). This paper written from critical philosophical analysis and hermeneutics argues that this abuse of childless women is unethical/immoral. The paper will draw upon instances from both written and oral literature to bring light on this belief and practice.  No woman or man gives children. Even though a woman may have conditions that may impede the birth of children, it is rare to see a woman causing her own childlessness. These cultural practices that still influence the attitude and (mal) treatment of women need to be denounced and abrogated. The paper finds and concludes there is a need to end these unethical treatments of childless women.


Download data is not yet available.


Abasili, A.I. “Hannah's ordeal of childlessness: Interpreting 1 Samuel 1 through the Prism of a childless African woman in a polygamous family.” Old Testament Essays. 28 (3). 2015. Web., A.I. “Seeing Tamar through the Prism of An African Woman: A Contextual Reading of Genesis 38.” Old Testament Essays, 24(3). 555- 573. 2011.

Akinta, Adeoti. “Women in Yoruba Culture.” Women and the Culture of Violence in Traditional Africa. Ed. Dorcas Akintunde and Helen Labeodan. Ibadan: Sefer. 2002. 1-16.

Akintunde, Dorcas. “Preface.” African Culture and the Quest for Women’s Rights. Ed. Dorcas Olu Akintunde. Ibadan: Sefer.2000. v-vii.

Baloyi, G.T. “An African woman’s dilemma in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives: A bosadi perspective on the challenges and pains of infertility,” Verbum et Ecclesia, 40(1).2019. 10 November 2019.

Baloyi, M E. Counselling Christian Shangaans on choosing a marriage partner. MA dissertation: Potchefstroom.2001.

Baloyi, Elijah M.”Critical Reflections on Polygamy in the African Christian Context,” Missionalia: South African Journal of Mssiology (Online) 41.2. (2013):164-180. 13 Nov 2019.

Chidili, Bartholomew Udealo. Provocative Essays on the Practices of Religion and Culture in African Society. Jos: Fab Anieh Nigeria Limited. "Children and Childhood". In obo in African Studies. 8 Nov. 2019.


Dzurgba, Akpenpuun. Contemporary Ethics: Theory and Issues. Ibadan: John Archers (Publishers) Limited.

Egede, Hephzibah. The Social Stigmatisation of Involuntary Childless Women in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Gender Empowerment and Justice Case for Cheaper Access to

Assisted Reproductive Technologies? 2015. 10 November 2019.

Ekwealo, Chigbo Joseph. “Ethics and Morality: Introduction to Applied and Practical Ethics.” Applied and Practical Ethics: A Simplified Course. Ed. Chigbo Joseph Ekwealo. Lagos: African Environmental Ethics and Values Research Group of Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos. 1-17.2012.

Fieser, James. “Ethics.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002. 9 November 2019., Laura L. “Introduction.” Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence and Abuse. Ed. Laura L Finley. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. 2013.ix-xxxii.

Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Health. “Abuse.” 9 Nov. 2019. <>. Gaskiyane, I. Polygamy: A Cultural and Biblical Perspective. London: Piquant.2000.

Igube, Restituta b. Women and Gender Studies. Abuja: Sir Kuf Ventures Nigeria Company. 2004. Kitur, Catherine C. “The Perceptions of Childlessness in Women among the Kipsigis

Community in FortTernan Region, Kericho County.” Impact: Journal of Transformation1. 1. (2018). 10 November 2019.

Kofon, N E. Polygyny in pre-Christian Bafut and new moral theological perspectives.Frankfurt: Peter Lang. 1992.

Labeodan, Helen. “Beyond Critique: A Philosophical Appraisal of Some Cultural Practices.”Women and the Culture of Violence in Traditional Africa. Ed. Dorcas Akintunde and Helen Labeodan. Ibadan: Sefer. 2002. 68-78.

Magesa, Laurenti. African Religion: The Moral Traditions of Abundant Life. Nairobi: Pauline Publications. 1998.Maillu, D G. Our Kind of Polygamy. Nairobi: Heinemann. 1988.

Mbiti, John S. Introduction to African Religion. Nairobi: East African Educational Limited.1991.

Mojekwu-Chikezie, Nneamaka M. African Women: Sentenced by Tradition. Ikeja, Lagos: A.A. Nwokebi & Company. Nnamani, Amuluche Greg. “Feminism and the Future of Nigeria.” Human Rights in Nigeria:

The Way Forward. Ed. Callistus Onyebuchi Asogwa. Enugu: Praise House Publishers. 143-179.Nwaneri, Benjamin. “Africana Womanism: The Nigerian Woman and Cross-Cultural Justification.” The Feminist-Womanist Dialectics: A Critical Source Book, a Festschrift in Honour of Professor MRS Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. Ed. Y.O.O Akorede and A.A. Asiyanbola. 13-32. Bedford, UK: Lyette Books. 2010.

Ola-Aluko, Yetunde. “Women, Culture and the African Society.” Women and the Culture of Violence in Traditional Africa. Ed. Dorcas Akintunde and Helen Labeodan. Ibadan: Sefer. 2002. 17-27.

Oderinde, Olatunde “Equal Rights Policies and the Multiple Roles of Women.” Women and the Culture of Violence in Traditional Africa. Ed. Dorcas Akintunde and Helen Labeodan. Ibadan: Sefer. 2002. 28-40.

Okpala, Ebele Peace and Tracie Chima Utoh-Ezeajugh. “Inter and Intra- Gender Discourse in African Prose: An Interrogation of the Female Image in Selected Literary Texts.” UJAH, 19 (2). 1- 24. 2018. http://dx.doi./org/10.4314/ujah.v19i2.1

Okereke, Grace Eche. “The Birth Song as a Medium for Communicating Woman's Maternal Destiny in the Traditional Community,” Research in African Literatures, 25 (3) Women as Oral Artists (Autumn, 1994), pp. 19-32.

Oti-Boadi, Mabel and Asante, Kwaku Oppong. “Psychological health and religious coping of Ghanaian women with infertility.” Biopsychosoc Med. (2017) 11 (20). Jul 12. DOI: 10.1186/s13030-017-0105-9

Rouchou, Britanny. “Consequences of infertility in developing countries,” Perspectives in Public Health. 2013. 10 November 2019.

Sharma, Radhey Shyam, Saxena, Richa and Singh,Rajeev. “Infertility & assisted reproduction: A historical & modern scientific perspective.” Indian J Med Res. 2018 Dec. 148(Suppl 1): S10–S14. 10 November 2019. doi: 10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_636_18

Turaki, Y. 1999. “Christianity and African Gods: A Method in Theology.” Wetenskaplike bydraes. Series F2 no. 75. Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education. United Nations. “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against

Women.” 18 December 1979. 10 October 2019.

United Nations. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” December 10, 1948. 4 October 2019.

Waruta, D W & Kinoti, H W. Pastoral Care in African Christianity. Nairobi: Acton. 2000.

19 March, 2021
How to Cite
Ikeke, M. (2021). The Unethical Nature of Abuse of Childless Women in African Traditional Thought/Practice. East African Journal of Traditions, Culture and Religion, 3(1), 12-22.

Most read articles by the same author(s)