Last week, one of my colleagues, Aika, came back to the office after teaching a group of Youth Advocates in one of our community sites. She looked upset so I asked her how the afternoon had been. She started telling me that one of the participants, Claire* had a boyfriend and was sexually active.
Claire is only 16 but her mother urged her to use contraceptives and asked our staff to provide her contraceptive counseling. However, Claire refused, because her boyfriend, a 26-year-old man, did not want her to use contraceptives. Aika explained to her that she was risking a pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. She urged her to reconsider, also telling her that since she is still so young and petite that a pregnancy would be hard on her body and would be risky. Aika’s eyes teared up as she told me with frustration that Claire still refused because she did not want to go against her boyfriend’s wishes, even though she didn’t want to have a baby.
As Aika and I discussed next steps, Aika told me that there was more. Claire’s father had sexually abused her for years, and her mother had only recently separated from him. Feeling terrible about everything this poor girl had already gone through, we resolved to return to Claire to try to speak with her again.
The next day, Aika returned to Claire, accompanied by our midwife, May. They talked with Claire some more about the possibilities she could face if she continued to have unsafe sex. Claire reiterated that she did not want to have a baby, and eventually she decided that she wanted to use oral contraceptive pills. May asked Claire when her last period was, and Claire answered, “March.” May then administered a pregnancy test. After a few minutes Claire looked at the two clear lines and said, “It’s positive?” May and Aika confirmed. Claire is pregnant. Aika asked her if she was ok and how she was feeling. Claire looked down and was silent for a while. When she looked up she had tears welling in her eyes and answered, “I’m scared.”
Aika and May talked with Claire some more and tried to gauge how her boyfriend would respond to the news. They were surprised to learn that Claire had only been in a relationship with him since March. Aika asked Claire where her boyfriend works, and Claire responded that he is unemployed.
Claire’s mother was despondent, as she had hoped Claire would use contraceptives and avoid a pregnancy. After she left Claire’s abusive father, she started a new relationship and she, too, is pregnant. She is in her early 40s and this is her sixth pregnancy.
We’re now giving Claire, and her mother, prenatal care.
We’re glad we can care for Claire to make sure she has the healthiest and safest pregnancy possible. But we’re also frustrated and angry and sad. This girl has already been through so much in her young life and now things will get even harder. We wish Claire’s father had not raped her. We wish that her boyfriend had not been allowed to prey on a young girl (he is committing statutory rape but the local Department of Social Welfare and Development cannot do much since Claire and her mother are not filing a complaint against him). We wish Claire had been more empowered so that she could have refused her boyfriend’s wish of having unprotected sex. We wish Claire had not dropped out of school when she was in the 6th grade. We wish there had been more of a safety net for Claire so her life could have been different.
We, as a collective society, failed Claire.
How many more girls like Claire will we allow to fail before we do something?
*Names have been changed