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Lack of education, unsupervised visits by older males, and superstition have all contributed.
Older men, even teachers, having sex with minors is as big a problem as teenagers getting girls pregnant and then abandoning them, health workers say.
Some girls will intentionally get pregnant to avoid an arranged marriage to a man they don't like, and poverty motivates still other girls to trade sexual favors with men and boys for money, clothes or hair extensions, said Laura Massengale, a Peace Corps volunteer working extensively on teen pregnancy in her village of Foulamory, 7 miles outside of Vélingara.
“Their family members often turn a blind eye to this type of situation, to avoid the shame of discussing a taboo subject, or perhaps, sadly, to allow the girl to have this opportunity for funds,” Massengale said.
“Once the girls get in that situation, how many presents can you accept before you have to put out? And, at that point, can you negotiate a condom?” she said, noting that STDs, like gonorrhea, are also persistent problems.
In Lama’s case, it was chicken dinners. He would visit her compound and bring her meals. Maybe he was courting her as a second wife. It’s too late to know. He ran off to Dakar when she became pregnant, returning after the birth. Since then, he's been by once to see his son and give him his last name.
“The man ruined her,” villagers say of Lama.
Indignant, Lama's brother had blamed village elders for letting older men get away with impregnating minors, saying they were too superstitious, lazy or complicit to call the police.
"It's the men who deceive them,” Baldé said. “Men are so crafty. They contradict everything the health workers are saying. They tell the girls -- That's not true, if you don't do this you're not a good girl, or I'm going to ignore you."
"When you get pregnant like this,” Baldé said he tries to warn the girls, “you will have to stay here and marry a very poor farmer. If you get sick, he won't be able to take care of you.”
This month, Lama will take the exam that decides whether she can go to junior high. She is bright but has missed a lot of school, even with her mother and sister watching her son.
“I didn’t drop out of school because I wanted to learn. I wanted to know what would come in the future,” Lama said.
But Lama's future isn't much of a mystery. Odds are she will marry and have more children. Giving birth in Vélingara may have been the closest she'll ever come to leaving the village. Still, her favorite subject is geography.
“It’s important,” she said. “So you’ll understand, so you’ll know when you go there.”
This dispatch was updated to clarify information.
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