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Girlhood: A Perilous Path

Nov 28, 2008, 4:41 AM | Article By: Isatou Dumbuya

In the developing world today, foetal sex determination has made it possible for expecting mothers to know the sex of their unborn child. This makes it even more exciting for a young mother. She might start planning and buying clothes for her unborn baby, thanks to the test.

However, in some countries like the Asia and Africa, this test confirming the sex of the female unborn child might prove to be a nightmare. Firstly, if she isn't aborted her birth isn't greeted with enthusiasm, but with a damp spirit. Discrimination against her starts right after birth when the mother would stop breast feeding her at an early period and attempt another pregnancy, this time with the hope of having a male child. She will also suffer extra susceptibility to diarrheal and respiratory infection, and her relative lack of food and clothing.

Such concerns about the girl child began to be expressed in the early 1980's on the Indian subcontinent. There were increasing reports of infanticide in states where dowry prices had become inflated. Less food and fewer visits to the Health Centre made a girl child more susceptible to sickness in her early childhood. In some parts of Africa, the girl child is introduced to a heavy load of domestic duties - sibling care, cleaning, cooking, water carrying and minding of the house. This robs her off the joys of childhood and education. She is forced to see this multiplicity of functions simply as the life of a girl child and eventually a woman.

Her worst traumas begin when she is introduced to female genital mutilation whose aftermath shows up during childbirth. As she steps over the threshold of adolescence, sometimes if she gets lucky she gets an education, but if she isn't she is married off at an early age, by arrangement and sometimes for cash since she is seen as an economic burden. When she is married off, a child is expected of her sooner than later. And of course, since she is a teenage mother, her baby would be born too early and very small.Research has shown that a quarter of the 500,000 women who die annually as a result of childbirth are teenage mothers.

As young as she is, when the family is under pressure the economic burden of the family is forced upon her. Her share of the load often becomes more inequitable. When land - because of drought, degradation or simple shortage no longer provides a sufficient income, or when local jobs are scarce, men folk migrate in search of work. This may bring in occasional remittances from afar, but family bonds are loosened, and women folk are often left behind to run the family alone, while their men folk gain a precarious entry into the 'modern world' making their marriages insecure - hanging on a thread.

Thus, development has a tendency to augment the crucial role women play in the socio- economic life of families while omitting to include them in the benefits.

Industrialisation, agricultural decline, urbanisation and conflict all promote mobility and family fragmentation; as a result, a growing number of both urban and rural households depend on a woman as their main provider - between 30 and 50 percent of all households in Africa, the Carribean and the Latin America.

With her comparative lack of education, qualifications, and access to land and credit, a woman sees to it that her family has everything within her power.