By Shree Ann Mathavan
AT 14, she had sex for the first time with a man who was 13 years older.
Barely six months into the relationship, Linda (not her real name) found out she was pregnant after months of unprotected sex.
To make matters worse, she found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her with another woman.
Nervous breakdowns, a painful break-up and an abortion at a private clinic during her fourth week of pregnancy.
'The abortion was really painful.
'It's like murder in a way. There are couples who want kids and here you are getting rid of a baby.'
Before the abortion, she had broken up with her boyfriend because he was unfaithful.
Even though she told him that she would be aborting the baby, he didn't try to stop her.
Wishing to put her painful experience behind, Linda decided not to turn him in for statutory rape.
Her boyfriend was 27 at that time. Under the law, girls aged below 14 are considered victims of statutory rape.
Under the penal code, it is an offence for anyone to have sex with a person under16.
If convicted, the person can be jailed up to 10 years, or fined, or both. Those who have sex with anyone under the age of 14 face up to 20 years and a fine or caning.
Statistics from the police showed that in the first half of this year, statutory rape cases involving girls under 14 jumped more than 70 per cent to 37 cases, compared to 21 cases in the same period last year.
There have also been several high-profile cases involving adults having sex with youngsters.
Said Linda: 'Even though I was underaged then, I didn't report the guy because I didn't want my parents to know. Even to this day, I have not told them anything. I don't want to cause them any pain.'
She turns life around
Five years on, Linda, now a 19-year-old undergraduate, has managed to turn her life around.
She credits this to the support of an aunt and counselling sessions.
After her initial ordeal, she worked hard at school, securing five credits including two distinctions for English language and mother tongue for her O levels.
The relationship with the older man first blossomed when they chatted over the Internet.
Then, she was feeling particularly vulnerable after her first boyfriend, 17, broke up with her. The couple never had sex but they did engage in heavy petting.
Recalled Linda: 'Then, he started seeing someone else and I saw him holding hands with another girl.'
She was heartbroken and the environment in school didn't help either, she recalled.
Linda said: 'A lot of my friends had boyfriends so when I didn't have one, there was a kind of inferiority complex. It was like you are ugly, that's why you don't have a boyfriend.'
Her friends also talked about sex often.
Some of the girls would show the uninitiated the proper way to give love bites by practising on their own arms. Those who were more 'experienced' would talk about intercourse.
A question often bandied about: 'Have you done it yet?'
It was against this backdrop, and while reeling from her breakup, that she got to know the older man online.
He initially told her that he was 20 years old, but subsequently revealed his real age.
A shoulder to lean on
She said: 'After my first break-up, I felt like I needed a shoulder to lean on, so we started chatting very often.'
Her support network at home wasn't strong as well. She felt that her parents and her older brother were strict and conservative, and she felt she could not confide in them.
Besides, to her peers, having a much older boyfriend was a 'cool thing'.
Linda said: 'At that time, I felt this guy was the only one who could really understand me.'
After about three months of chatting online, they met up. They went on dates at fast food centres at first, but soon, they began hanging out at his place, where they would pet.
After going to his house for the third time, he initiated sex and, as she was in love with him, the teen consented.
She recalled: 'I was scared, it was just so sudden and I felt like I had to agree to it. I took sex for love, and as he was older and more forceful, he kept demanding sex constantly.'
Part of his demands also involved sex outdoors once, she recalled. This was at the steps of a public carpark.
She said: 'I was worried about getting caught, but I still gave in. He told me that this was what couples did.'
Each time, they had unprotected sex.
She was taken in by his promises about their future together.
'He would tell me things like 'let's get married after you finish school'.'
But her nightmare began when she claimed she found herself constantly throwing up. A pregnancy test soon confirmed her worst fears - she was two weeks pregnant.
His reaction to the pregnancy?
'So, what I am supposed to do?'
Worried sick and alone, she confided in an aunt, who accompanied her to see a private doctor for an abortion after her first month of pregnancy.
She used an older friend's IC to have the procedure done and the clinic didn't check either.
The couple broke up even before the abortion because she found out that he had been cheating on her.
He didn't try to stop her either when she told him she would go for an abortion.
She came forward to tell her story because she hopes other teens can learn from her experience. Now, when she reads media reports about underage sex, she feels pessimistic.
She said: 'Now, it seems like having a boyfriend or having sex isn't the cool thing as it was before, it seems to be the norm.
'You see 12-year-olds holding hands, it's on television, everywhere. If everyone is doing it, talking about it, naturally you absorb it.'
She also suggested that apart from punishing adults who have sex with minors, the teenager involved should not be let off either.
Apart from counselling, mandatory involvement in social services could also benefit youngsters.
She explained: 'Sex is a habit, so by volunteering, they spend time on other meaningful activities, instead of just sex.'
Linda's turbulent early teen years, however, have helped to make her more focused and driven. She is now an active volunteer, helping out at various grassroots organisations.
She said: 'If these things didn't happen to me, I think I might still have been very playful. Life has changed for the better.'
She has chosen to remain single since her ordeal, even though she has guys asking her out.
She said: 'It's like once bitten, twice shy. I'm not in any hurry to get into a relationship.'
Why are youths having sex
- It just happened.
- It felt good.
- I was curious.
Why are youths abstaining
- I want to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or Aids.
- I want to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
- I am too young for sexual activities.
- I do not want to upset my family.
- I do not want to engage in any sexual activity before marriage.
Source: HPB Students' Health Survey of 100 upper secondary students, released in 2007
This article was first published in The New Paper on .