Maryam Malikah returns with insightful advice on how we can protect underaged girls from male predators.
Diana's storyline on MTV Shuga Naija brought back some memories of secondary school. There would be times I heard some of my peers boasting about their older boyfriends who had cars, took them on fancy dates and showered them with gifts. Those girls were occasionaly perceived to be more ‘grown’ than some of their mates because of the false power such relationships brought, as can be seen from Diana’s character.
You might want to read: Why relationship power struggles can be unhealthy
In reference to sexual relationships, you may have heard the phrase ‘catching them young’ in which men knowingly seek out younger women or minors with the intent of ‘molding’ them into their preferred idea of a partner. Consequently, some of these women are exposed to and taught to internalize physical and sexual abuse in such relationships. This is an example of how child grooming manifests in our society.
Child grooming, which defines the slow and methodical manipulation of minors with the intent of sexual abuse, is rife in our community, with teenage girls being the main targets. Upon reaching adolescence, not enough is done to educate young girls on issues regarding sex and understanding their bodies. Rather, society sexualizes young girls while predatory men seek to manipulate them, taking advantage of their innocence.
On one hand, parents marry off their adolescent daughters once they attain puberty in order to ‘preserve their sexualities' - something we've seen with some of the Hausa characters on #MTVShugaNaija. Meanwhile, their counterparts in seemingly liberal states are unknowingly groomed into toxic relationships with adult men.
Young girls are very impressionable, as well as being confused about puberty and sex, which should be normal at their age. We should be allowing them to be children and not sexual objects in the first place. As a result of inadequate sex education, the other girls on the show, Frances, Cynthia, and Koko turn to Diana, their supposed sex guru, for advice.
Being impressionable also means doing whatever it takes to fit in and as such, teenage girls are the most vulnerable to abusive relationships and dangerous circumstances (Something Phumlani Kango discussed in his article about peer pressure). As can be seen when Diana invites her friends to the party. At some parties, it is commonplace for men to buy women drinks until they become too drunk to give or withdraw consent. And in the case of Frances and the rest of the girls, teenage girls in a bid to impress are unaware of the men's desires and their motives. Thanks to Leila, some of the girls were able to leave the party, but sadly, they left Frances and Diana behind. In real life, not everyone is able to escape such circumstances safely. Unsuspecting teenagers have been murdered, kidnapped and assaulted by predators lurking around such parties.
Moreover, in a society such as ours that upholds victim-blaming, men hosting similar parties are absolved of responsibility for their actions. Girls who survive those dangerous experience live in silence in fear of being shamed and shunned for daring to attend those parties when in fact, they are victims themselves. The recent episode of MTV Shuga was triggering for most, in that many now adult women found themselves in similar situations as teenagers.
Coupled with being young at heart, young girls also find themselves in precarious situations as a result of likability politics. Rather than focusing on teaching girls to ‘keep themselves for men’, it is imperative for us as a society to teach our girls sex education as early as possible so they can be self-aware and confident enough to walk out of uncomfortable situations. Additionally, the notion that menstruation equals sexual maturity should be discarded, as such, young girls will be given the opportunity to enjoy their youth. It is important for girls to be seen as human beings first, and not objects to be manipulated and used to attain pleasure.
We need educational institutions, homes and the government at large to each play a role in building a society that is safer for our girls. Adolescent girls should be given every possible opportunity to succeed and enjoy every moment of their teenage years without threats to their livelihood or development.