In the United States, the term “juvie” is short for juvenile and a colloquial word for juvenile correctional facility or juvenile justice system. It is also used to refer to a young person who has served time in a juvenile correctional facility; it is derogatory in meaning and stigmatizing in the American context. Kids (boys and girls) who are referred to as “juvie” in America are supposed to have committed some type of crime that landed them in the juvenile justice system.
In Sierra Leone, however, the term “juvie” is used in a totally different context. Although still derogatory in meaning, it does not refer to the juvenile justice system per say or kids who have been in the system due to crimes they committed. Instead, older men who have the penchant for engaging in sex with adolescent girls use it to refer to adolescent girls. These men refer to the very young girls they pursue for sex and domestic servitude as “juvie.”
Use of the term in this context is so common in Sierra Leone society that men talk and laugh about it amongst themselves in casual conversations without an iota of concern about its moral and social implications. As an example of this nonchalance, here is a brief exchange between 3 men (writing in Creole) on a listserv email group Mama Salone came across:
Mr. A says to Mr. B
I will be in your town this weekend so you better stay there. And please I do not want any competition with C. He spends too much money to get the girls.
Then Mr. C responds
You will meet my 20 year old sweateh.
Then Mr. D chimes in the conversation
You are “coming with….” a Juvie…?
Bo…do yaa nor kill daa ol pa befoe en tem.
(Translation of last line: please do not kill that old man before his time)
The men who engage with adolescent girls have a twisted belief that by doing so they prove their male prowess, hence Mr. D’s teasing that C would die before his time if he engages with a “juvie” because he is too old; consequently, Mr. C would have to prove to the gang that he can indeed engage with a “juvie” and live to tell about it.
Even if these particular men are not necessarily exploiting adolescent girls, they do not seem to be discouraging the practice. In fact, men who use the term casually are actually contributing to the problem and promoting the practice. This sort of behavior is seen among men who have daughters, nieces, and sisters of their own, yet see nothing wrong in referring to young adolescent girls in this derogatory term and in the process promoting this sickening behavior that is so detrimental to girls in so many ways.
Mama Salone wants to break the silence on what she calls the Juvie Offensive. Already frustrated with the lack of progress among Salone women, she is constantly exploring issues that socially impact girls and women and keep women marginalized in the society.
The juvie offensive is one damaging practice that the Sierra Leone society needs to rise up against, and it is up to all who are concerned about Salone to end it because as much as girls pay the price, the ultimate price is the continued underdevelopment of the country as half its population is not properly capacitated to participate fully in nation building
Sierra Leone is flooded with all kinds of aid for girls’ education, including scholarships and other programs by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and many other non-government organizations. Yet Sierra Leone is one of the countries that have not shown progress toward #5 of the Millennium Development Goals to eliminate gender disparity in education. Girls are still less likely to graduate from secondary school and they represent the lowest number of university students.
Many reports show a high rate of school dropout among girls from the very early secondary grades, even though figures on girls’ education in Sierra Leone show a promising parity with boys at the primary level. Their numbers start dwindling at the end of primary and the drop is dramatic by the middle and upper grades of secondary. This of course, leads to the very low rate of young women at the tertiary level; the student population at the university level today is under 30% women, even though women make up 52% of the general population.
The two main reasons girls are dropping out of school in Salone are adolescent pregnancies and early marriage. The outside world mistakenly labels these issues as cultural but we see the juvie offensive as one of the main factors.
Older men and men with money or power are referred to in the Salone lingo as de Pa. To be sure, de Pa(s), including those residing in the country as well as those visiting from the diaspora (JC), do not necessarily force these adolescent girls into having sex. However, due to the extreme poverty that the majority of people in Salone endure, they use money and favors to lure girls, leading to pregnancies, early marriages and school dropouts.
When a girl gets pregnant in such a relationship, the family would want the man responsible to marry her so that the child is not born out of wedlock; this is the only aspect of this scenario that is cultural. It is very seldom that a girl get pregnant by her school aged boyfriend, it is most often an older man. The girl would become one of his wives and can no longer continue her education. This happens even when the man resides in the Diaspora.
Diaspora Sierra Leoneans who visit or vacation in Sierra Leone are referred to in the lingo as just cam (newly arrived from abroad) or “JC” for short. One of the main perpetrators of juvie offensive in Mama Salone’s opinion are male “JCs.” These visiting Salone men from U.S. and Europe are playing a big role in the issue of girls dropping out of school.
The scenario: Mr. JC comes to town with is dollars or euros, he may be dirt poor in the diaspora, but with these hard currencies in Salone, he is rich. He throws a few at the young secondary school girl, in return, she skips school, sleeps with him, wash his clothes, cook his food for the duration of his stay. Many would actually rent a place for the girl out of her home/town so that she is more accessible during Mr. JC’s current and future visits.
More often, however, Mr. JC finds another victim on his next visit and the girl’s source of sustenance through him ends; she becomes extremely vulnerable to prostitution and human trafficking. With no education, cut off from family, there are many such girls roaming the cities, hunting in the JC and de Pa markets; sustaining themselves by sleeping with philandering married JCs and de Pa(s) for money and favors.
For the JC and de Pa, the “juvie” is an easy target because of her innocence and gullibility; she does not ask a lot of questions, she does as she is told and will not cause trouble in JC’s or de Pa’s marriage. In contrast, a more mature educated and intelligent woman would want more and ask questions. For a married philandering JC or de Pa, these are very important factors because the juvie offensive gets shoved under the rug with a few dollars or euros even if the girl ends up pregnant.
In the event of a pregnancy, the child and the fact that the girl’s education and future prospect are strangulated, are often problems that do not concern Mr. JC or de Pa, the girl, her family and society have to deal with the repercussions. The most Mr. JC or de Pa would do is give the girl money to abort the pregnancy. Many secondary school girls die or sustain lifetime injuries by illegal abortions every year, many more die in childbirth and the lucky ones end up with babies they cannot support and, of course, sexually transmitted diseases.
Young men in Salone seem to be the only ones taking notice of this problem and are trying to create awareness. Girls often choose money over love, JCs and de Pa bring girls and their families’ hard currency in a place hard hit by dire poverty. Listening to lyrics of songs such as MedTutu’s JC Wahala and ShadyBaby’s Nor Takam (all on youtube) show how rampant this problem is and how young Salone artists (men) are trying to create awareness about it.
Tragically however, the juvie offensive problem persists in Salone because girls and women themselves have not come to realize how damaging it is to their prosperity. Contrary to the lyrics of the songs by young male singers, songs by young female Salone singers venerate the JC. For instance, in one song, the young woman says things like, “my g-string is dollar, my body is dollar, i need my JC.” She goes on and on about the material gain for which she needs the JC, dumps her poor boyfriend who was in love with her since childhood.
Girls must realize that being a “juvie” or even being called one is insulting and a hindrance to their prosperity in life. Girls must aspire to become self-reliant women, rather than depend on de Pa or JC for their sustenance. Girls must believe that by staying in school and attaining higher education, they will have a place at the leadership table in our beloved country.
Without girls and women’s desire to end it, the juvie offensive will go on and the 52% of women in Salone will continue to only comprise 13% of the national leadership; along with that, all other socio-economic problems women are facing in Salone will continue to fester.
This article is not an attack on Salone men and it is by no means meant to say that all Salone men are juvie offensive perpetrators, we are also quite aware that this problem is not isolated to Sierra Leone. Rather, it is an attack on a practice that is detrimental to girls and women and since Mama Salone’s main concern is the prosperity of women in Salone, we believe that this issues should be put on the radar.
Good Salone men who are not juvie offensive perpetrators should know that as long as they sit and do nothing about this issue, this evil practice will not only prevail but will continue to taint all Salone men.
Most importantly, the development of our beloved nation is at stake; until the better 52% half of the nation is capacitated to contribute more meaningfully to nation building, Salone will continue to sit at the bottom of the human development index.