Too many girls get married too early which is under the age of 18. There are several reasons why these girls marry at such young age, but the main reason is poverty. The problem is that these girls are also doomed to a life in poverty with few, if any, opportunities to independence. Adolescent girls are forced to become adults when they are not old and mature enough. The girls are mostly forced to drop out of school, which means that they will have no skills and no opportunities to learn a trade and be able to earn some income. Their childhood ends over night, and suddenly the girls are faced with a lot of demands they are not ready for. From being a young girl, playing with her friends and making her homework, she is forced to a daily struggle with housework instead.
Before she got married, she might have had some romantic dream about being a wife and having a home of her own. As most girls are so shielded, they are not aware of the demands a young and married woman has to face. Married life is not only about cooking food, laundry and cleaning floors. The young bride is expected to show her fertility as soon as possible, and this puts a lot of pressure on her. Even if a girl can become pregnant rather early, her body is not fully developed until the age of 18 to 19. Her pelvis is narrow and this can lead to fatal consequences for both baby and mother. If the young mother survives the childbirth, she can still suffer from terrible complications from it.
Young girls must be allowed to be just that – young girls, and not be forced in to marriage. Our modern society has higher expectations on both men and women, being able to read and write is a demand. Companies need skilled workers, staff members who can speak several languages and who have computer skills. We can’t go backwards into the future, so even if we haven’t been able to study at a higher level ourselves, we should allow our children to do that. It should be every parent’s deepest wish that their children reach a higher level than themselves. They don’t always need to understand exactly what their kids are learning in school. Education is a developing art and can be hard to understand when one hasn’t had the opportunity to study.
Many parents believe that if they marry off their girls to a man of their choosing, they will protect their daughter from a lot of risks. According to Islam, premarital sex is forbidden. As so many other things in Islam, this rule is logical, not mainly a moral rule as so many choose to believe. The logic in Islam is what attracted me and made me wish to convert some years ago. Look at this rule with your logical goggles on for a while. Let us begin with the boys; even if their bodies are mature enough to produce a baby, the boys are not, and therefore they should wait to have sex until they are old enough to become fathers with all their responsibilities.
The boys are expected to provide for their families, and therefore they need to have an education, develop some skill and get a job. They also need to learn ”life skills” in how to be a good husband and father. When the boy has become a man, he knows that the baby his wife is carrying is actually his.
Let us turn our attention to the girls and still use our ”logical goggles”. Even if the bodies of some girls look developed enough – some mature faster than others – they are definitely not prepared to become mothers at an age of 15 or 16 or so. They are still girls, both in body and mind, and not either physically or mentally prepared to become mothers.
Going through a pregnancy takes its toll, a very young girl is not strong enough for this. It will break down her health and as it often is the case that the girl is poor, she doesn’t have access to nutritious food or good healthcare. If the girl is unfortunate enough to have become pregnant out of wedlock, she is also struck with that stigma.
Wherever she goes, she will meet comments and unkind looks, which is sad.
In the article I wrote last week, I stressed the fact that not only the girls should be blamed for a premarital pregnancy, it takes two to tango. Instead of marrying the young girl to a man to protect her from a premarital pregnancy, she should be educated on how to protect herself. If the girl learns about the human anatomy and her reproductive system, she will also understand the consequences of premarital sex and how to avoid it. The girls should also be taught how to understand the temptations they meet, that they are normal and natural, but can be resisted.
Girls, in our society, are taught to be obedient and that obedience kicks in without a thought, it is mere an instinct. Girls are taught to do as they are told, and for a very young girl it is very hard to make the distinction between being obedient or being lured into something she can’t handle.
The lover’s game is nothing new, but we need to teach our girls what they can accept and when they must say stop to protect themselves. A very young child, already at the age 2 to 3 years old, is exploring his or her body. This is a natural process, so what we should do is to tell them that some things are private and should only be explored in privacy. This goes for both girls and boys, and we should never shame them for it. A small child doesn’t understand that some things they do, in their innocence, can be misinterpreted by an adult. It is always, always the adult’s responsibility to keep a healthy distance.
Don’t place a girl of even 12 or 13 in a man’s lap, because his private parts live a life of their own. So many times mothers tell their daughters to sit on someone’s lap, when they go in the gèlé-gèlé. The thought is to save some dalasis, but instead they risk the integrity and innocence of their daughters.
Teach your daughters how to defend themselves, that they should respect themselves and not only others. Teach the girls that they are not prey for the lust of men and that they are allowed to defend themselves both verbally and physically. If the girls know how to defend themselves, they can live a full life without fear. The girls will be able to study, learn a trade and become independent.
There is an old African proverb, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)”. The Gambia is a poor country, and those who are the poorest are the women. We need to change that fact through education, and when we do, The Gambia will become rich because the girls and women will focus on what benefits everyone – not only themselves. Choose wisely, choose a good future for our girls, instead of forcing them into poverty just because that is what you have been used to. Old habits can actually change.