A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
pregnant is considered to dishonour the whole family. In fact, when such a thing happens, the girl is considered to be a bad omen for the family, which is stigmatised in turn by the wider society. When such a misfortune happens to a girl, the parents’ instinct may be to react otherwise, but because of the cultural influence, the first reflex of the family is to chase the girl away if she is pregnant. From the interviews it was clear that most girls who were pregnant or who had had children without being formally married were chased away by their families, either permanently or for some months. Marie, for example, was chased away repeatedly by her brother and sister. Sometimes parents eventually agree to take their daughters back, either as a result of advice from friends or because they take pity on their child, who would otherwise be doomed to an unsettled life.
From the moment the girl is known to be pregnant, she suffers ceaseless mistreatment. For example, she is deprived of care and food, given harsh physical punishments and wild and incessant insults, refused access to resources such as land to plant food crops on, and deprived of money for basic needs, and she and her child are constantly discriminated against and stigmatised. Even though girls are treated badly by all members of the family without exception, the girls we interviewed considered the worst maltreatment to come from their brothers. This intolerant behaviour is linked to questions of inheritance. In fact, when a girl gives birth to a boy, the maltreatment of the girl and her child is worse, because this child has the right to inherit from his maternal grandfather and therefore encroaches on the possessions which would otherwise come down to his mother’s brothers, given that in Burundi only male descendants have the right to inherit. Not only that, but also the girl mother’s chances of marrying are slim, and her brothers resent the fact that she will for ever be a burden on the family. The discouragement the girl receives from her family only aggravates her problems, psychologically and from a social and economic point of view.
All the same, there are some exceptional cases, especially where there has been a rape, when families who are aware of what has happened to their daughters behave in an understanding way, and try instead to comfort and support them in order to minimise their unhappiness. But in general terms, the girl is held to be responsible for what has happened to her, whatever the circumstances. This coercive discrimination has traditionally been practised to repress girls and act as a deterrent.