Children who have Children
Last year, I was told the story of a man who sexually abused five generations of women in his family, and procured babies as a result of it. The youngest of his victims was three years old when he died. He was an extremity, but the violence that those women suffered is not.
5 100 girls between the ages 10 to 14 became pregnant in Guatemala in 2014, all as a result of rape. In a country with only 15 million inhabitants this makes for one of the highest rates in Latin America. 89 percent of the perpetrators to girls below 14 were someone in the girls family or close to the girl, a quarter was the father.
In many ways, I am the complete opposite to these girls. I was brought up in the far north of Sweden as the sole girl amongst almost exclusively male cousins, uncles and friends. I climbed trees and practised with the shotgun, evidently a typical tomboy. Despite a working class background, my parents did a sterling job never to differentiate between me and my brother, and subsequently I didn’t notice gender disparities until I left from under their wings.
I had my first direct contact with discrimination at my first job, which ironically was at an anti-racism magazine. A series of experiences followed which, combined with the contrast from my adolescence, made me determined to understand the complexity of gender inequality. I deepened my engagement in a two year global project about violence against women. Still, the work left me frustrated, and I found it difficult to visualise the many issues and the underlying cause.
The issue of pregnant young girls describes a wide fundamental problem that touches the root of gender based violence and inequality in the world; that women and especially girls are prescribed a lower value than men, by men but also by themselves. Their innocence and the absurdity of their stories gave me a chance to give sexual abuse a face, and the girls in Guatemala a voice.
For the past two years, I have documented nine young girls that are also mothers, or who became mothers during this time. In addition to being sexually abused, they suffer stigmatisation from society which blames them for becoming pregnant. They are consistently banned from schools, have trouble finding partners, and are often forced into lives as single house wives. Most churches discourage contraception and instructs schools to avoid education on the subject. Since most rapes do not lead to pregnancy these cases are of course only the tip of an iceberg.