Five months ago, a 12-year-old girl was raped by her sister’s 25-year-old chile father. The sister had gone to spend a weekend by the man and, for some reason, carried the 12-year-old with her. The man raped the girl while the sister was asleep.
In a follow-up story in last Tuesday’s Express, the girl told reporter Carolyn Kissoon, “He tell me don’t say anything. He said we will both get in trouble and my mother will put me out if she finds out. He said my mother will beat me in front of everybody.”
What struck me about this remark is that the girl believed what the man said, and so didn’t tell anyone that she had been raped. And, indeed, the mother told the reporter that, when the doctor confirmed that her daughter was pregnant, “I started to quarrel with her.”
So the mother’s immediate assumption was that her 12-year-old daughter was sexually active, not sexually abused. In that context, it was entirely reasonable for the girl to believe her rapist’s warning about her mother—if she had not gotten pregnant, after all, no one would ever have known about the assault and there would have been no danger of her mother beating her and throwing her out of their home.
The mother, a single parent, went on to say, “She is so coward and shy, that is why she didn’t say anything.” The mother, therefore, does not think her daughter’s silence was caused by lack of trust in her, but by the child’s weak character.
This incident is a microcosm of the overall abuse perpetrated by our hypocritical society on children. Adults condemn both sexually active children and the men having sex with them: but religious leaders say that it’s okay for men to have sex with these same 12- and 14-year-old girls if they’re married to them. You regularly hear people complaining about bad parenting being at the root of all our social problems, but what they really mean is that parents don’t beat their children enough.
However, psychological research has demonstrated that children are more likely to have problems if parents are authoritarian, as well as uninvolved or indulgent. Uninvolved parents, as the term suggests, pretty much ignore their children. They neither set rules nor punish, they do not reward and they do not criticise. Indulgent parents also don’t set many rules or mete out punishment, but are more nurturing to their children. Authoritarian parents are the Trinidad and Tobago ideal: strict rules, harsh punishment, no explanations, little rewarding or positive remarks.
But the most effective parenting style is called “authoritative”. These parents set rules for their children, but discuss them. They rarely, if ever, use licks as a disciplinary method and, when they punish their child in other ways, explain why. They reward and praise. Their children are more likely to come out emotionally balanced, intelligent, disciplined and ethical. But this kind of parenting is not promoted in this place, not by the authorities and certainly not by calypsonians or comedians.
Then there’s the societal aspect. This particular 12-year-old girl was raped, in part, because successive governments have been too timid to implement the most effective strategy for reducing child abuse: a comprehensive sex education programme in schools. Significantly, the main opponent to sex education has been the Catholic church, which this week was condemned by the United Nations for not taking “the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and (adopting) policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.” Additionally, feminist consultants pervert sex education with canards such as sexual orientation being socially constructed and rape being about power, not sex.
Had the girl been armed with proper information, she might have been able to avoid being raped. If she was unable to avoid or fight the man off, she might have been more likely to tell a teacher, if not her mother. Unfortunately, even then, she would have encountered another level of abuse caused by social hypocrisy and political cowardice: the lack of proper abortion legislation.
In a civilised place, the girl would already be in the care of a paediatrician, an obstetrician, and a psychiatrist. Before she was three months pregnant, she would have had her pregnancy terminated, unless she had strong and independent objections to doing so. But she is five months pregnant, and an abortion is now risky. However, it may not be more dangerous than a 12-year-old giving birth—which is what, in a civilised country, the three doctors would be there to determine.
But this is here. And so this child now faces challenges that even an adult would find daunting, if not traumatic, failed by all the people and all the institutions who were supposed to protect her.