Piece of Mind: Much to Learn From Young Mom’s Ordeal

This is a repost of an article that appeared in the Jakarta Globe.  It was written by Reza Daffi and published on October 10, 2011.

I read a sad story on the Internet a few months ago: A 16-year-old student in East Java gave birth at school. It was not the unusual labor and birthplace that concerned me (well it was, a little), but rather the fact that the new mother was expelled from school.

The headmaster of SMK II Madiun, a vocational high school where 99 percent of the students are female, said the girl had to be expelled for breaking rules signed during registration forbidding students from marrying and getting pregnant.

The girl, identified as R by newspapers, was known to be a good student. She was described as a smart, active young woman who participated in extracurricular activities and sports. 

Like other female students, she wore a hijab and loose clothing in class — nothing that could be called “naughty.” R seemed to be another normal student, until she delivered a premature baby at the school clinic, which led to her expulsion. Given the regulations the girl agreed to, the punishment might have seemed appropriate. But was it?

When asked if every rule offender deserves to be punished, my answer is usually yes. But should the punishment be alienating and traumatic? I believe that the idea of sanctioning is to correct people’s behavior — so we should unfailingly seek a better, more humane and, if possible, compassionate way to do that. After all, everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance.

Almost two decades ago, Robert Waxler, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, came up with the idea that prisoners could be rehabilitated through reading. His program, Changing Lives Through Literature, has enjoyed widespread success in the United States since 1991. The reading course has become an alternative to jail time in many states.

In Texas, where the imprisonment and death penalty rates are the highest in the world, 597 prisoners completed the course from 1997 to 2008. Of those, only 36 prisoners, or 6 percent, went back to jail after failing their probation, but they committed less serious crimes. Most of these prisoners, however, now see the world from a different perspective, and some even want to get a college education.

The reading course is taught with the belief that human conduct starts with the mind. Crime and criminal behavior stems from many causes, including ignorance and narrow-mindedness. By having the convicts read books, CLTL tries to broaden prisoners’ views of life, enhance their minds and create wiser, critical-thinking people.

Education essentially aims to enlighten students, and CLTL has shown that broadening pupils’ minds is achievable. Schools, of course, should facilitate “enlightenment.” 

In class we learn, read, make friends, and raise hopes for a better future. If those are not the things that change lives, nothing is. At this point, we may question the decision of the school to expel its student for immoral but harmless conduct.

Expelling the girl from school will not solve any problems. It seems more like an effort to save face by those who want to stay untainted: the school, the headmaster, teachers, and other students.

The punishment has nothing to do with rehabilitation. I’m sure that giving birth unexpectedly at 16 was physically and psychologically painful. The girl may also be shunned and held in contempt by her neighbors.

Going against society’s values is wrong, as is failing to give a person a chance to fix a mistake. Programs such as CLTL have been giving prisoners a chance. The 16-year-old girl is certainly not a “criminal,” and should have the opportunity to move on from her mistake. To do that, she needs to have hope, which is why she should stay in school.

I dream of the girl’s friends and teachers visiting her home to see if she is OK, of her partner staying beside her, of the community supporting and helping to raise the new child and of the girl being allowed to go to school again. I’m not alone.

Sadly, we live in a country where some people think that fornicating is a worse offense than assaulting an innocent person, and where people like to hide behind hypocrisy. While becoming a parent before marriage might be one of the worst things that can befall a girl, ironically (and unjustly), the same is not the case for boys.


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6 thoughts on “Piece of Mind: Much to Learn From Young Mom’s Ordeal

  1. Thank you for sharing this article. It is devastating that R was expelled – such a punishment probably changed her life completely, and most likely, for the worst. Punishment should be to teach someone that their actions were wrong, but it should also aid them in making better decisions so that those actions do not become cyclical. That is why the CLTL program is so effective – it is teaching criminals to make better decisions through education, specifically literature.
    I also like the point you make at the end about the hardships of being female. We would like to think that the feminist movement is coming to an end, with near-equal rights between men and women, but this story is a great example of how that is not true. Did the father of R’s child also get expelled? Probably not. Girls, especially ones facing early pregnancy, have problems and prejudices they must overcome that boys do not. If anything, we should be offering extra help to these girls, such as extra support and tutoring so that they stay in school – not the opposite, not putting them at a greater disadvantage by forcing them out of school. It’s disgusting.
    Education is life-changing. It should never be taken away from someone.

  2. Reading this article brought back memories of similar articles I have read about my home country, Pakistan. After seventeen years of living in Pakistan I am still not immune to the injustice that often prevails. In this article, R is faced with a much larger penalty than she deserved – being expelled from school and most likely looked down or even shunned by her family, friends and neighbors. R’s life will never be the same and unfortunately she will probably not get a second chance to redeem herself. I concur with the idea that literacy and reading can change peoples perspectives on all aspects of life and the fact that this opportunity was taken away from R is especially devastating. Unfortunately, views on sex before marriage and teen pregnancy’s in many Muslim countries is a highly sensitive topic. Sex before marriage is strictly prohibited in Islam and often times when teenage pregnancy’s do occur, it is dealt with in the most irrational manner. Women are scorned upon for ‘fornication’ or ‘adultery’ and are treated in inhuman manners for the rest of their lives. The woman will be labelled as an adulteress and most men will refuse to marry her due to being a non-virgin. These ideas will not be left behind easily; it requires further literacy on the topic for the school teachers, principal and board in order for them to change their perspectives. They themselves do not know better than to react this way and therefore are the ones that need to be educated, especially on this topic so that they can pass the message along to their students. They will not necessarily leave their ideas on the subject behind, but might become more aware of medical care when a situation such as R’s does take place and will be more tolerant to the idea of sex before marriage in the future.

  3. I agree expelling does nothing to help the child. While punishment has its place to teach consequences we need to show more compassion and willingness to help people get better.

  4. Expelling the girl is counter-productive. Although she broke both the schools rules and societies’ rules, expelling her won’t help her change the course of her life for the better. Without support, she is unlikely to be able to get a well-paid job to support herself and her child. This could force her to pursue illegal activities in order to survive.

  5. Wow! I did not know that giving birth would be considered as harmful to expel a girl from school. Having a chance to go to school is not a gift to everyone; some have to earn with a lot of work. Even thou that was the school’s rule, I agree with the author saying that everyone deserves a second chance especially if it involves not harming anyone. Being able to reproduce is a gift in which many women are not lucky to have. Why then being punish for that just because that person was considered too young to have a baby? Also I think expelling her made her situation worst. If she doesn’t have any outside supporters, then the school took her the last hope of being successful in life. Expelling her made her emotionally harmed, and it didn’t make the society a better place to live. Sometimes I wonder if the law is really made for the better, meaning if it’s really the best choice. What the professor did is an example that sometimes the law isn’t just right. He promote a program in which helped the prisoners, and decrease the numbers of prisoners coming to jail. I guess it wasn’t worth it expelling the girl from school.

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