A mother recalls:
WHEN my daughters were 13 and 15 years old, while we walked in town, I couldn’t believe the amount of attention they received from men. Both well-developed girls dressed modestly; I did not allow them to wear halter-backs, midriff tops or short skirts. However, men would call out remarks or ‘size them up’, checking out their shape. This type of behaviour upset me so much there was a time I shouted at one man angrily. ‘She’s just a child! What’s wrong with you?’ He replied, ‘I might be old, but it’s young chicken I like to fry’. My innocent daughter, who was embarking on womanhood, was nothing more than a sexual object to this bleary-eyed creepy man.
The youngest one came home and relayed an incident with the shopkeeper in the scheme. He grabbed her hand whilst giving her the change and asked. ‘How old are you?’. Not wanting to be rude, she replied, ‘I’m nearly 14’. He gave her the change and retorted, ‘You’re too young; come back when you reach 16’. When she told me, I thought, Come back for what? I marched right down to that shop without missing a beat and asked him to explain what she is too young for and why she must come back when she is 16?
He got flustered and said he meant nothing bad; he was joking around. I made sure all the customers heard me as I put him to his place. I told him to save his jokes for his women friends and don’t mess with my child. Furthermore, he was not to touch her hand, foot or any part of her anatomy when I send her to purchase goods. It felt liberating, defending my girls from sex fiends. What is this world coming to when young girls cannot go about their daily lives in peace? I’m sure these men wouldn’t like their female family members pestered as they went about their business? Don’t they know it is punishable by law for young girls and women to be sexually harassed on the streets?
I realised I was fighting a losing battle after a few more incidents. When an inappropriate gesture or pass is made, I wouldn’t always be present, and if I kept jumping to their defence, there was a chance my girls would be embarrassed and refrain from confiding in me. I wanted them to feel safe in our home and community; it was my responsibility to protect them. They should not be burdened with protecting themselves.
The best thing to do, I decided, was to arm them with knowledge. I had to empower them with a first line of defence against abuse. Choosing an appropriate time when they were relaxing I sat down with them to explain. I can’t remember what I said word for word, but it went something like this – ‘You girls are growing up and getting a lot of attention from boys and men, I guess it is only natural. Likewise, you might notice a boy and think he is cute. You don’t have to hide from me, it is the law of attraction, certain faces appeal to certain people, and personalities are drawn to each other.
But now is not the time to be thinking about boyfriends and relationships; all that will come when you’re older. Teenage years is the time to take in your education and broaden your mind. In broadening your mind, you will broaden your horizons and opportunities. You can dream big and achieve your goals; you can make something of yourself and your life.
Some people say it’s part of our culture for boys and men to ‘trouble’ you when they see you, or they say they just ‘playing’ with you when you pass. But believe me, if you only give them an opening, they would take it further. You can imagine how many teenage girls allowed that attention to get to their head; and falling prey to their jibe, ended up pregnant. Especially girls who receive little attention at home and have no one to sit and talk to them like I am talking to you now.
I want you to carry yourself with self-respect every time you leave this house while going to and from school. Don’t take on any boy or man who tries to distract you or get your attention. You are attractive looking girls, but physical attraction is not all you need to get by in life. You need to uphold the morals and standards taught in this house from me, your mother’.
I remember the older one saying, ‘but mummy; I ignore them, you know, I just cut my eye, suck my teeth and walk away’. The younger one said, ‘I tell myself, any boy or man who behaves like that, has no respect for himself or the girl he’s troubling’. We had a deep discussion that day, and I realised my daughters were more aware and informed than I had credited them; they’d learnt a lot from observing how I handle things, and both held positive outlooks.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of watching them grow into responsible women. They sailed through their teenage years confidently with minor disruptions, and each achieved commendable exam results. As a single mother, there is only so much you can do, but respectfully talking to children and explaining the pitfalls in life can help them make informed choices and aim for sustainable goals.
If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at email@example.com
A MESSAGE FROM THE CHILDCARE AND PROTECTION AGENCY,
MINISTRY OF HUMAN SERVICES AND SOCIAL SECURITY