By Clair MacDougall
MONROVIA, Liberia — Fourteen-year-old Jatu stands on the stoop of her one room zinc-roofed shack watching chubby teenage schoolgirls pass by. They have neatly braided hair and green tunics and their black school shoes click against the dusty uneven road of New Kru Town, a slum community in Monrovia.
Jatu’s tank top scoops low across her breasts, which have been pumped up with the help of extra padding in what’s known as an “iron-titty bra.” Her skin-tight leggings slide down her lower back. As the girls pass, she turns her head to hide the scars carved into the left side of her face, neck and shoulders that have grown with her since she was mowed down by a taxi at the age of 8. The driver ran from the car and left her for dead.
In recent weeks, the world’s attention has been focused on the horrific kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in a remote corner of Nigeria. It has been shocked by the death sentence handed down by a Sudanese sharia court against a woman who is eight months pregnant for the crime of “apostasy.” But even in African nations that have adopted policies and laws aimed at empowering and protecting women and girls, violence against them remains a major challenge.
Jatu’s life has been shaped by a series of quotidian injustices that are common for many Liberian girls. She left home at 11, conscious of becoming a burden on her single mother and three siblings. She says it was her choice. She was unable to pay school fees, so she dropped out and moved in with an older friend who introduced her to street prostitution. She was still only 11 when her friend took her to a club and introduced her to a couple of “boys.” They danced to music pounding from the crackling speakers, sipped beers and then parted. Her friend asked her to meet her at a nearby junction, but disappeared. Jatu walked out onto the dark road and was met by the two boys who said they had paid her friend to “have” her. Before she could argue, one held his hand over her mouth, as they both dragged her behind a car and raped her. They left her bleeding on the ground.
Jatu and her grandmother went to the police to report the attack, and were asked for 1,000 Liberian dollars (around $12 USD) to register the case. The police never found the boys. “They ate my money,” she says about the police. “I say to my grandma, ‘Forget about it.”
Source: Globe Afrique Media