Within the past few months, we’ve covered births by two very young girls: one aged 10 and one 11 years old. Both of these girls are of Romani descent. In Roma (also referred to as “gypsy”) culture, it’s common for girls to marry very young. In neither case were any family members surprised or upset about the births. The 10-year-old’s mother was happy for her daughter, even though the baby’s father was the girl’s 13-year-old cousin… with whom she was raised like a sister and then lived with as husband and wife.
In the 11-year-old’s case, her mother, Ridca Stanescu, became the world’s youngest grandmother at age 23. As our Madeline noted earlier this month, that’s two years younger than the average age at which American women become mothers for the first time. While these Roma women may accept children having children as a part of their culture, the Western world does not. Which is why the story of a 12-year-old Dutch girl giving birth on a field trip is much more shocking.
A spokesperson for a Dutch government agency said, “Neither the girl nor her family had realized she was pregnant, and there were no external signs to show it.”
I wonder if that means the girl didn’t know what she was doing when she had sex, or didn’t know sex causes pregnancy or knew there was a chance of pregnancy from sex but simply hadn’t had her period long enough before she got pregnant to miss it? Is there a chance she could have gotten pregnant before her first period ever came? Does the fact that there were no physical symptoms of the pregnancy mean this girl is naturally fat and her baby belly was hidden or that her belly barely grew? It’s all so unclear.
Mother and child are healthy and “doing well,” according to officials. The Telegraph reports that “a social worker has been charged with looking after the welfare of the baby,” which is standard practice in the Netherlands in such cases. I’m not sure what defines “such cases,” but I take it to mean when children under the age of consent give birth. I wonder if the Dutch government will consider removing the infant from her family’s home in Groningen or allow the baby to be raised by his or her 12-year-old mother. Perhaps the child will consider giving the baby up for adoption? Or maybe her family will try to raise the two as siblings, as used to be standard practice in “such cases” in the US.
Another question looms: are the parents of these 10-, 11- and 12-year-old girls responsible for their daughters’ pregnancies? And if sex under the age of consent is illegal, has a crime been committed if the fathers are also under the age of consent? Laws vary from country to country and state to state, but according to Big Think, “In most (US) states, these sexually-active young people are actually breaking the law and could be convicted as sex-offenders, even if both partners consent.” Big Think’s Max Miller notes that “almost 20% of American teens under 16 have had intercourse, despite it being technically illegal.” (It’s not always technically illegal, but I’ll get to that in a minute.) He cites a New Zealand study which found that “70% of girls who had sex before the age of 16 wished they hadn’t done so,” and a Telegraph column by David Lindsay which says, “sex is for people who can cope with the consequences, physical and otherwise. In a word, adults.”
While I don’t regret having lost my virginity at 16, I think I’d prefer my own daughter to wait a bit longer than that. 18 seems like a good age, don’t you think? The lowest age of consent is 16 in most US states, but that’s in reference to sex between a major and a minor. When it comes to sex between minors, in South Dakota, it’s legal for children aged 10 to have sex with someone up to the age of 13 – if the relationship is consensual… even though you can’t technically “consent” under the age of consent. (Age of consent laws are meant to protect minors from older sexual predators.) So, if the 10-year-old Roma girl and her cousin/brother/husband lived in South Dakota, they’d be right at home.
As a parent, I wouldn’t mind seeing legislation to move the nationwide age of consent up to 17 or 18, even though I know that might not be practical. In California, Idaho and Wisconsin, the minimum age and the age of consent are both 18. In New York and Illinois, the minimum age and the age of consent are both 17.
Then again, now that we know the part of the human brain that inhibits risky behavior isn’t fully developed until around age 25, I don’t think any of us should make any major decisions until then. I know I would have saved myself from making a few life-altering choices; I got married at 25. Of course, if I hadn’t made those choices, I wouldn’t have a beautiful daughter to worry about. And since she kept her baby, it’s possible the 10-year-old Romani mother feels the same way.
The problem is, we can’t refer to these as “teenage pregnancies” because these 10-, 11- and 12-year-old girls are not technically teenagers. We can’t refer to them as pre-pubescent girls, because they’ve obviously already hit puberty. A woman my age would typically think of a menstruating 10-year-old as having experienced early puberty, but it’s very common nowadays for 10 year olds to have started their periods. I refuse to refer to a woman with a baby as a “tween,” so what can we call these young mothers except babies having babies? And what can and should be done to prevent this phenomenon from spreading?