By Emmanuel Unah
Girls between the ages of ten and thirteen carrying bulging stomachs are a familiar sight in Calabar, Cross River State capital, and other parts of the state.
The girls often look like a joke or are acting a play in a nursery class but are actually pregnant and a sign of what many believe is a high rate of promiscuity in the state.
The pregnant girls are a common sight in the Calabar South area, which is densely populated.
The high poverty rate, according to analysts, makes parents to encourage their children to look for income to meet family needs.
Such parents send their children to hawk petty items like sachet water, bean cake, groundnut, in the process of which unscrupulous men entice them with gifts, have sex with them and get them pregnant.
Many of the girls operating in the red light area of Calabar, located in Atekong Drive, are from that part of the city and it is common to find primary kids roaming the area at night to hawk their bodies for sex and men, not minding their ages, take them into hotel rooms for a one- night-stand and hand them peanuts.
One of the girls, Esther, 11, carrying a seven months old pregnancy, told Sunday Vanguard that what forced her into sex before she became pregnant was to source for what the family would eat.
“I am from Uyo in Akwa Ibom State and live with my mother and five other siblings in one room at Akparika Street in Calabar South. I do not go to school because there is no money. Most times, we do not have food to eat or money to buy water; that is why I go out to meet men to get money and some of them do not like to use condom. That is why I became pregnant”.
The high rate of teenage pregnancy in Cross River has become a source of grave concern to social workers who say it is a time-bomb which may soon create problems in the society that may be hard to contain.
Mr Vincent Ogbor, a social worker in Calabar, said affected parents oftentimes do not reveal the men who put their daughters in the family way for the fear that the men will stop supporting them and so there is nobody to hold and prosecute.
“We have many of these cases both in the villages and in the urban centres across the state and what is driving the scourge is poverty and ignorance. Many people have children they cannot fend for; so they send the girls out to look for what the family will eat or, worse still, they pay no attention when the girl starts bringing little gifts from one ‘uncle’ or the other and, before long, she becomes pregnant”, Ogbor said.
According to him, some of the small girls, when they give birth, abandon the children on the streets or kill them and dump in refuse bins since they lack the resources to cater for them.
“We have reports of these girls, after giving birth, abandoning the children or killing them. If refuse disposal people tell you the number of dead kids they find in refuse bins every week, you will weep. My fear is that these abandoned children may end up becoming armed robbers, kidnappers and militants who make life miserable in the society tomorrow”
The social worker pointed out that government is playing the ostrich by not prosecuting parents who indulge in the act of allowing their children to go out and get pregnant for aiding and abetting, and the men who get the girls pregnant.
“These are girls made to give birth to babies and some of them die in the process because they are too young or contract deadly diseases”, he added.
Mr Oliver Orok, the state Commissioner for Social Welfare, told Sunday Vanguard that there is a law in Cross River which forbids the abuse, defilement or impregnating of underage girls.
“There is a law in the state which specifies years of imprisonment for anyone who abuses, defiles a minor or engages in child labour. We are yet to receive reports on any of such cases and we won’t take kindly to it.”