More than the father, every mother of a school going teenage girl dreads, every day, to be told two heart wrenching bad news from their little daughter: “I have been raped” and “I am pregnant”. Sadly, these days, this happens all too often. The day suddenly acquires a new disorienting quality about it, an unreal texture and colour which together create the ambience fit for the recognition that the dreadful fear has finally materialised.
Only a moment ago, before the news, the teenage girl was just that: just a girl with a whole world of possibilities ahead of her. She would finish school, go to college or university, get a job, find love, get married, raise children and have a happy family. Well, she still can do all these things, but now with the painful awareness of the fact of the rape or the teen pregnancy. No one and nothing must take away her sense of self-worth, dignity and pride: she is a complete and full human being still able to achieve all her ambitions; notwithstanding the things which might have happened to her.
As for the rape, many have the right to be angry with President Hakainde Hichilema for partially abolishing the death sentence. Some human male animals do deserve to be removed from society by being killed by the state for the evil and ugly things they do, especially to little girls and women. Rape is obviously one such ugly thing for which the death penalty is quite appropriate, many would argue.
As a country, we are nowhere near being able to provide the kind of all-round help necessary and essential to rape victims. It soon becomes the burden of the little girl to suffer alone, for the rest of her life, the trauma of rape and all its other ramifications, including in some instances, stigma. Nor, for that matter, have we evolved wholesome, health sex cultures and practices to preclude rape, from our society. As with the rest of the world, a rapacious patriarchal streek pervades and permeates almost all human interactions between the sexes, with the male suffering a false sense of superiority and entitlement to the full person of the girl or woman, whether married or not. We have urgent massive work to do, to uproot this sense of male false superiority, entitlement and false female inferiority complex.
“I have something to tell you; I am pregnant”. Usually the teen girl will start weeping at this point, having let it out her secret, to her mother. She knows she has let her mother down. She is aware her mother will be hurt, disappointed, perhaps raving mad and angry, upon hearing this news. As for her father, she hopes her mother will protect her from the wrath to come, from this man. Silence from both, perhaps. “Whose child is it?” is obviously a question the mother wants an answer to, almost immediately. Trembling, the girl mentions the name of her class mate. Silence, again, hopefully, rather than the explosion of inevitable anger from the mother as a result of the realisation of the full implications of the new status of her teenage daughter.
At this stage the setting and social context of the mother and daughter are important. In the urban areas, in a reasonably well to do family, the girl in a relatively good and expensive school, the parents having crafted for themselves a good public reputation and image, the mother’s reaction to this devastating news may be very different from a mother in a village say in Petauke, thoroughly poor and heavily depended on the farmers input support programme from the government for the little surplus maize, groundnuts and beans they sell to raise money for salt, sugar, soap and clothes. The girl of course in this case goes to a poor government school in which for years no one remembers anyone doing well and going to university.
Both mothers will be devastated. This is not how they imagined and pictured their daughter to inform them about her first child. Both want the best society and her family can offer the child, including finishing school, going to college or university, getting a job, finding love, having a big wedding, enjoying her marriage and raising a family. For both mothers, this option has now been violated, it can only happen with some serious adjustments.
Of course, whatever feelings the mothers may be suffering from at this moment, typical of good African mothers, both will be worried about the mental and physical health of their daughter, and how she is coping with the life changing pregnancy. Her actual age, health status and ability to carry the pregnancy will be quickly processed, in the mind of the mother. The health, wellbeing and life of her daughter, even with all that has happened, whether this is in an urban well to do family or poor rural village, are foremost in the mother’s mind, no matter what emotions she lets out!
It is the option of “early marriage” we offer to our children when they, all too often, find themselves in these life changing situation that worries me. It should not matter whether the girl is in a rural subsistence farming community or an urban setting. Almost 60 years after our independence, Zambia as a country is supposed to be grown up and mature enough to provide wholesome moral, cultural, traditional, religious, spiritual and school sex education and useful practical life skills to both girls and boys to prevent teen pregnancies and to abolish rape. We are yet to build a national consensus and produce this kind of education.
Our failure to raise rural productivity, lift our people in rural areas from the burden of impoverishing subsistence farming 59 years after independence means both girls and boys have little choice but to enter adult life too soon, including through early marriages. Our rich natural endowment should have funded the transformation of our rural areas to be the best of the blend from the best that both urban and rural life can give, such as science and technology and modern conveniences without the overcrowding and ecologically unsustainable living of urban areas and the sparsely, traditional, cultural and ecologically sound and health living rural settings provide. This way, the chasm between urban and rural areas would be breached and our country would be all the healthier for it, including by depopulating urban areas as more opportunities are created in rural areas for wholesome living.
For far too long, we, the adults, have left it to chance, that our little boys and girls will find their way around the sex jungle. We do not teach little boys how to grow up not being rapists, but as equal human beings to girls and women. In fact, we do not question traditions and customs which place women in the position of teachers of inferiority complexes to girls. We quietly allow men to teach boys to treat women as inferior to them. Consciously and unconsciously, we stitch together a society that violets the girl and woman. We refuse to confront the structures and systems which oppress both girls and boys.
As to the little girl and boy, you do have the means and power to do something about teen pregnancies and rape. Listen to the good advice and practice what you get from your parents, pastors, priests, mullahs, rabis and teachers and you may just survive your teens very well. As for boys, girls are full human beings equal in worth to every other human being, male or female: they need your full respect, nothing less. Follow this advice and you will grow up to be a protector of life, all life, side by side, with girls and women. This is how it is meant to be. This is how it must be, if we all must be happy, have peace, live full lives and truly love each other: we must disabuse ourselves of any feelings and practices of superiority, inferiority and ownership, of the other person.
We must ban early marriages as we simultaneously expand life options and opportunities, and banish poverty, for both girls and boys in our rural and urban areas. Doing one without the other is an exercise in futility. To achieve this, both girls and boys need their right to life long quality education, training and constant skilling, fully guaranteed.
We must strive to abolish the occasion when no girl or woman must ever say: “I have been rapped”. Pregnancy must, always, be an occasion for joy, not heartache. This is perfectly doable.
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