This column is dedicated to Nikacia Allen, who died at age 17, leaving behind three girl children.
Let’s assume that you are present on a regular basis in the same home as your child/children, grandchildren, niece, or other young female relative/s, that you are paying attention, and that you have enough of a relationship with them to be aware of the basics of their lives. What do you do then, when this 12, 13, 14, or 15-year-old child (or a ten or 11-year-old for that matter) comes to you and tells you that she’s pregnant? Or when someone else tells you? Or you notice her belly growing? Do you abuse and/or beat her? Do you kick her out of your house before she ‘contaminates’ the other children? Do you beat up yourself (and/or your partner) for having failed as a parent/caregiver? Do you think it’s ok because you survived, so she will too?
Do you wish you’d talked to her more about sex and love and relationships so she would have made better decisions? Or do you just not know what to say, because nobody ever talked to you about those things? Do you hold your head and cry because you’re sad and angry and tired that you had to always be working and couldn’t be at home enough to guide and/or protect her? Do you pray for divine intervention or seek outside assistance from relevant authorities and organizations? Or do you hide, ignore and avoid talking about the issue with others because you are ashamed? Do you explain all the available options to her – including abortion and adoption?
Do you try to find out who violated her? Do you go find them and beat them or do you negotiate some deal with them which may or may not include them marrying her (with your permission)? Do you report the incident to the police and fight for justice, no matter how long it takes? Do you comfort her and tell her that you love and will support her no matter what? Or do you just wash your hands of the whole matter and leave her to try on her own?
What do you do if you’re a policeman/woman and a parent/caregiver comes to report the statutory rape of their underage girl child? Do you immediately arrest the perpetrator, or do you delay, giving him time to escape? Do you treat the child who has been victimized with sensitivity, or do you humiliate her more? Do you let the matter drop if the child or family tell you they don’t want to pursue the matter? Does whether or not you take action depend on who the victim or perpetrator is, how much power they do or don’t have, and/or how much money passes your way? Do you take advantage of the situation to further violate a vulnerable girl in your custody, or do you look after her as carefully as if she was your own flesh and blood?
What do you do if you’re a nurse or other healthcare provider and a pregnant, underage girl child comes to you for medical treatment? Do you provide comfort, care, and information, or do you shame her for ‘tekking man’ and rebuke her for crying out in pain during childbirth since she ‘didn’t cry when she was having her fun,’ so you don’t want to hear any crying now? Do you bring in the police and child protection authorities, or do you turn a blind eye and just send her back to wherever she came from with no questions asked, just two Panadol, and her newborn baby? Do you test her for HIV or provide the prophylactic medication? Do you teach her how to protect herself from sexually transmitted infections and explain how to prevent additional unwanted pregnancies? Do you provide her with birth control and make sure she knows how to use it properly and where to go for more, if/when necessary? Or do you think that if you talk to a young person about sex and/or provide any information to them that you will be encouraging them to engage in it?
What happens when there is no sex education in schools, when only abstinence is preached, and when contraceptives are not made freely and easily accessible to youth in all regions and communities of Guyana? What choice does the underage schoolgirl have when abortion is not explained to her as a reasonable option but a sin, and when doctors in the public sector (are allowed to) refuse to provide terminations of pregnancies even though that procedure has been legalized for two decades?
What message is sent when boys/adult men who impregnate underage girls are allowed to get away scot-free nine times out of ten, with no/only light punishment, while pregnant schoolgirls and teenage mothers are prevented from completing their schooling?
What impact does the daily consumption of songs, movies, and other media with sexist messages have on the shaping of mentalities, expectations, and societal norms? What’s wrong with schoolchildren memorizing, internalizing, and repeating degrading song lyrics instead of learning their history, science, language arts, mathematics, and the basics of communication, self-care, and civic responsibility? What do you expect when parents/caregivers are absent, overworked, tired, unaware, or unable to communicate meaningfully with their offspring?
What happens when self-love is absent/unknown, when people think that love can only come from outside sources, and when the difference between sex and love isn’t known? What is the result when there aren’t enough protective mechanisms in place, when the existing systems are broken, when there’s not enough desire, energy, funding, or political will to try and make repairs, when ruin and exploitation becomes the norm?
How healthy is a society without equity and justice? What kind of community and nation do you want to live in/leave for your children? How does change come about? Who is responsible for creating, finding and implementing solutions and ensuring efficacy and accountability? Even if you don’t have any children of your own, what is keeping you from acting?
Sherlina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org