25 November 2012

Tanzania: Schoolgirl Pregnancies - Try Adherence to Rules

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
Young women perform in traditional dress in Arusha, Tanzania.


SAYING 'no thank you' was part of etiquettes in the area where I grew up. My mother was so strict that none of her girls accepted a gift, no matter how small, not even if it was given by a relative.

She expected the girls to be kind though, serve rather than being served and politeness was expressed through the choice of words we were taught to use.

When a neighbour welcomed us for a meal, my mother would tell us to politely decline the offer, saying the food was prepared for that household and certainly not for us. Every movement we made, from home to school was closely monitored.

Exercise books were checked everyday and every corner of our bedroom and suitcases were thoroughly inspected. That strictness was extended to the schools we went.

All letters were read by the teachers before being sent to the post office and incoming mails too, were opened before the owners could see them. We struggled to pass exams, hoping that once in secondary school, we would be a little more free, especially with our personal letters.

However, the same system was practised in secondary schools. Nothing to hide. Whatever you discussed with your boyfriend had to be part of the learning process because your class teacher was there, monitoring.

I grew up to hate this kind of a life pattern where you were constantly followed. No privacy, not even a simple flower handkerchief from your lovely boyfriend, as you were supposed to always 'say no thanks' to whatever gift was sent to you.

It was a boring kind of life especially when I learnt that some parents weren't so strict with their girls. My conclusion was that our teachers and parents were breaching our right to privacy simply to humiliate us and it was obvious that our parents, did not like us.

One important thing to note was that any breach of the rules was met with thorough caning. Today however, when I look back and recollect those tough old days, I'm very proud of our parents and teachers.

They were shielding us from bad guys and trained us to soldier on in very difficult environment so that we had good education and no one forced us to drop out of school due to pregnancy.

It pays a million times to teach your daughter to say 'no thanks!' And mothers have to do so when their girls are still 'babies'. They will grow up learning to protect themselves against men preying on them not for anything else but their budding beauty.

In teaching young girls good manners (exclusive to girls only), they will become exemplary and the pride of their families. Well-mannered girls never lose this charm. It shows in their daily behaviour and conduct.

Bad men cannot buy them easily however rich they may be. Not for sex, not for anything... And people look at the girls and nod with satisfaction because they see some dignity and African culture. Parents have their own options to chose on how best their girls should grow up.

However, we do share similar concerns that girls deserve special treatment. When US First Lady Michelle Obama was recently interviewed on how she relates good parenting with her two sweet girls, she proved to the world that every mother has great concern for her daughters.

Mrs Obama said the fact that her children Sasha and Malia are privileged, does not make them entirely different from other girls. There are a set of rules to be strictly obeyed. "They must tide up their beds every morning and eat vegetables whenever these are served.

If they don't eat, it means they are not hungry and cannot ask for an alternative. No chips, no burger," she says and adds that the girls must write a report of any school trip they made, even if their teachers did not instruct them to do so.

When commenting on TV, the US First Lady says her daughters watch selected TV channels and this is done on weekends only. If they have to use a mobile phone, it must be during a certain period of time only, otherwise most of the time they are not reachable.

At one time, their Father Barack Obama said he wasn't really worried about who is going out with the girls because they are covered by the Secret Service. His major concern was Facebook and so far he has managed to keep them out of reach of this common social media.

Well, the US parents are not telling their girls to say 'no thank you,' but are certainly not allowing them freedom to do whatever they want either. Not the way some parents treat their girls. Many a time, for just a small amount of money, gift or empty promises, school girls are targeted by reckless destroyers.

The girls are ready to surrender to 'generous men' in exchange for trivial things like a mobile phone, a lift to and from school, chips and chicken and a little pocket money. They have been brought up to be given whatever they ask for and this can be from anybody!

In the end however, when a girl discovers that she is pregnant, the 'generous' person disappears in thin air. The fact is, no man ever wants to be associated with a pregnant school girl! The price to pay is too heavy and a jail term is the only guarantee.

Who wants to go to jail? As we mark the 16 days of Activism against Gender based Violence, let us think of the best way to nurture the girl child. There is no harm in teaching her to say 'No thanks.'

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