Simbo: I like this statement. Listen (reads from her phone) “Pregnant schoolgirls should be allowed to stay in school. Sending them away while allowing boys who impregnate them to stay is discriminatory.”
Jerry: This is true, it is not right to stop the education of girls when they get pregnant. After all, they did not impregnate themselves.
Jimoh: What kind of nonsense is that? How can a pregnant girl stay in school? What message does that send to other students? It means that promiscuity pays and all the other girls are free to go and get pregnant.
Maria: That is ridiculous. The fact that one girl is pregnant and stays in school does not mean other girls will get pregnant too. Is pregnancy a virus or cold you can catch? Just because that is how things have been does not mean we cannot change. The number of pregnant schoolgirls is too high and we cannot keep folding our arms, something has to be done.
Simbo: As Jerry said, they do not impregnate themselves, why should they suffer alone?
Jimoh: What if the person responsible for the pregnancy is not a student in the school? Many of these girls are impregnated by older men.
Jerry: If an older man has sex with an underage girl that is a criminal offence and he must face charges for it.
Jimoh: A criminal offence? Under what law?
Maria: Under the Child Rights Act of 2003. Nigeria is a signatory to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the act is the federal domestication of the convention. The act is supposed to be domesticated across the states of the federation. So far, almost all states in southern Nigeria have a Child Rights Law as well as Kaduna State in the North.
Simbo: Unfortunately, in many instances, it does not matter whether the law is in place or not. Children are abused in so many ways, and when it comes to the girl-child, she has so many challenges to overcome. If girls get pregnant in school, that is usually the end of the road for them, unless they are from wealthy homes. Can you imagine the number of potential lawyers, engineers, scientists and doctors we are losing every year if they are allowed to drop out of school?
Maria: Absolutely, it is a national development issue. We need to stop behaving like ostriches and lift our heads out of the sand.
Jimoh: What if the girl is in a relationship with the guy and they both agree to have sex. How can that be rape?
Jerry: There is no such thing as consensual sex with a minor. As long as a girl is under 18 years of age, she is a minor.
Jimoh: What if it happens where the law does not apply? How can you make criminals out of people who simply want to be together, regardless of their age?
Maria: Even if the law does not exist, why should adults require laws to tell us how to behave with children? What happened to common sense? Decency? Compassion? How will you feel if some man starts sleeping with Tola, your 15-year-old daughter?
Jimoh: God forbid!! My daughter is well brought up. How will she come across a man who will deceive her into sex? We monitor her movements and she is not allowed to have friends.
(Maria, Simbo and Jerry all laugh)
Jerry: My brother, may your hypocrisy not lead you to an early grave. No parent can know for sure what their children are up to. All we can do is discipline, guide and counsel them. As parents, we need to have eyes at the back of our heads when dealing with children of nowadays.
Maria: Talking about young girls getting pregnant, why is there so much resistance to the teaching of sex education? If young people don’t have facts, they will make up their own information. Do you know how many girls have become pregnant because a boy or man has told them that you can never get pregnant the first time you have sex, that you have to do it 10 times before you can become pregnant!
Jimoh: Yeepa!! Ten times?
Jerry: I am in full agreement with sex education being on the curriculum. I also think parents should encourage their children to talk to them about anything. When we keep shutting them up and ignoring them, they will not confide in us when something is seriously wrong.
Simbo: A lot of abuse that children have gone through could have been avoided if parents had been more sensitive and aware.
Jimoh: So, if we are saying we want pregnant girls to stay in school, what happens after they give birth? Surely, they have to stay home to take care of the baby?
Maria: It is hoped that when situations like that occur, there will be a support system in place for the young mother. If she takes a three or four-month break, she should be able to go back to school; if not her current school, another one. And while she is on maternity leave, if the person responsible is another student, he too should go on paternity leave and he can return when the girl does. Of course, for this to work, there needs to be a lot of advocacy and sensitisation with the education authorities and parents.
Jimoh: Paternity leave? You feminists have come again o! Which one is paternity leave?
Jerry: Every responsible father should take paternity leave. That is the time to bond with your new baby and support your wife, or, in this case, Baby Mama. It is not a big deal. If boys have to stay away from school for three months then they will think twice before sweet talking a girl into sex and they will keep their trousers zipped up.
Maria: Yes, my dear brother. The message should be, ‘Boys, Zip Up and Girls, Knees Together.’
Simbo: What happens when girls keep their knees together and boys insist on prying them apart? It happens on a daily basis now, and we are fast becoming a rape republic. I for one would like our government to declare a national emergency on abuse of women and children.
(All of them nod their heads)
Jerry: It is indeed getting out of hand, people are so wicked. Raping babies, brutalising girls, sodomising boys, kidnap, murder, it feels like the Devil has decided to upgrade his vacation home in Nigeria to a permanent residence. Look at that poor woman they shot just like that in Ondo State. That is so terrible.
Maria: Yes, there is so much wickedness around. People prey on the poor and desperate, and that is why it is easy to lure children who are hungry with as little as N100.
Jimoh: I need to spend more time with my daughter. You have all given me food for thought. To be honest, I don’t know what she knows or does not know about sex. I have just taken it for granted that all our warnings and counselling should be enough. We can never know it all, we just have to do the best we can.
Simbo: That is the spirit. Parenting is a never-ending task. We are eternal advocates for our children. That is why the misfortune of one child should concern us all. Someday, our own children might need one form of assistance or another and you never know where that help might come from. Let us teach our children more than the birds and the bees. We should not judge those who make mistakes, it is not the end of the world and there is nothing new under the sun. Let us all call out the predators in our midst, the stealers of futures and fortunes. Let us lead by example by being kind and compassionate.
Jerry: Speak on, my sister. Well said. We will, however, start with the basics before we go into the heavier stuff – Zips Up and Knees Together! (Everyone laughs).
•Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]