Heidy has eleven siblings and lives in extreme poverty. Their house is built in the outdoor corner of two other houses that meet, and form two of their inner walls. By adding two more walls and a tin roof to the construction, they have made a small home for themselves. The children have attended a few years of school and some are still going, but it is impossible for the family to pay for books, clothes and tuitions for all of them.
The other day when chatting with Heidy’s mother, we asked a little bit about why they decided to have so many children, they obviously cannot afford it. Her answer was quite simple: “My husband never allowed me to use contraception, he said that I would cheat on him if I did”.
Instead of trusting his wife and treating her as an equal, Heidy’s father chooses to not allow his wife contraceptives to control her sexuality. By doing so he believes that any unfaithfulness would be revealed and that will prevent her from having other partners. Of course he’s not seeing beyond the end of his nose, since she could have cheated on him any time she wanted as long as she used a condom with the potential other lover.
Heidy’s mother does not react strongly to her husband’s behavior. From her perspective it seems quite normal, probably for the same reasons that he does not think it through; it is part of a cultural pattern of controlling women. The result in this case is a vicious circle of poverty and abuse of power.
We continued to talk and it appears that after being constantly pregnant for 12 years, an American woman had come to visit them and managed to convince the husband that it was a good idea that his wife went through surgery so she would not be able to get pregnant again.
A young mother was in a bad mood one day. When asked why, she responded; “He is playing with MY toys”, looking angrily at her son.
The girl on the photo is not that girl. But Lilian and her son spend their days at home playing with the other kids in the family. Luis David was born after long continuous abuse by Lilian’s grandfathers brother.
Self portraits by the the young mom’s. Today I’ve been trying out an addition to my own photographic story. I’m still very uncertain if, or how this is going to work together with the rest of the story, but I figured it is worth a try. Seeing what someone does when they take their own picture is always interesting. So I built up a tiny studio with my portable flashes and let three of the girls take self-portraits with their babies. This is a glimpse of what came out of their alone time in my hotel room!
This girl is on her monthly health check at the health clinic. She is somewhere around 4,5 months pregnant and luckily everything is well. But because she is only 13 and subsequently a high risk case, she will hereon have to go to the hospital for her checkups.
Very young adolescents face a much greater health risk when they become pregnant. The risk of suffering maternal death is twice as high, as well as the risk of obstetric fistula. Fistulas render a woman incontinent and usually results in still birth or that the baby dies within the first weeks.
Tonight I am too tired to write. Picture will have to suffice.
A couple of days ago 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 the abuse. The youngest one was three years when he died.
He was an extremity, but the violence that those women suffered is not.
The issue of pregnant young girls in Guatemala describes a much wider fundamental problem that touches the root of all 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. This is to me, the only way to ultimately explain how some deeds can be committed.
In Guatemala, though far from being the only place in the world, this often takes a hideous shape where women’s primary and sometimes only value, is to be of use to men.
This which can seem extreme, is still true to a varying degree in most other societies in the rest of the world too.
An estimated 150 million girls in the world, under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone. Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. 1-2 women are murdered every day in Guatemala. Around 25-30 percent of women in industrialised countries are subjected to domestic violence during their lifetime.
The girl on the picture has just turned 13. The father of the child in her stomach is 22.
On many days, the health center in Antigua doesn’t have finances to support a car that can take them around to visit pregnant teens. The local OSAR organisation in Retalhuleo doesn’t have a car at all. Sometimes they walk by foot. But many pregnant girls, they can’t reach. These people need money, badly!! I am incredibly impressed with their attitude, their knowledge, their projects and their spirit. And I am not easily impressed with organisations.
After a day of rapid meetings with 6 girls that are pregnant or already have babies, a few things can be said.
None of them puts value in themselves. When asked about dreams or their future the don’t have an answer. They don’t think that they are worth it.
Most of them didn’t know that they could get pregnant at the time an older man or boy told them that they were going to have sexual relations.
Even though it is against the law to have sex with a girl under 15, and the hospitals and police are obliged to report, none of the girls are in a legal case against the man.
And finally. It is extremely sad that this poster is necessary. The text on the door says “It’s a fundamental human right for a woman in a relation to decide how many children she wants and when she is going to have them.”
The 10 page list, of pregnant girls under the age of 14 in on municipality in Guatemala, from October until now. Today I am going to try to find one who will let me follow her pregnancy.
Some good news on my first day back in Guatemala! Michelle has started to touch and give her daughter some love. She was raped by an older man, who is now in prison for almost 11 years. (Also good news since he is one of very few who get sentenced!)
After the episode Michelle spent a month in psych ward and can’t really talk about it. Last time I met her in the end of November she would not touch her baby, which is a result of the rape. She also didn’t give it enough food, and it was extremely malnourished. Now it was actually a bit chubby, and Michelle gave her hugs.