Girls and Young Women: Broken Lives

The waves break gently on the shore. The crystal-clear water glistens invitingly under the rays of the sun. Eleanor sits on the shore and looks out to sea. Her palms shade her face. Eleanor is twelve years old and she can’t wait to be grown up.

Some distance from the sea stands her wooden house; it is a traditional stilt house with a roof of leaves. The house is surrounded by red and orange flowers. Birds chirp as the trees sway gently to the rhythm of the wind. Eleanor has a happy childhood. The family lives on a small island near the coastal city of Madang not far from Alexishafen in Papua New Guinea. Her father is a fisherman. Eleanor is the third of six children.

The sun slowly descends on the horizon. It’s time to go home. Curiously from a distance, she sees people she hadn’t seen before in front of the house. An elderly gentleman enters and talks to her father and uncle.

They talk agitatedly and finally shake hands. The old man gives some money to her father. Eleanor is at the door, her father tells her to take her things that her mother had already prepared and go and live with the man. Protesting, she turns to flee but the man stops her in front of the door. Bursting into tears, she lets herself be carried away. She hasn’t the strength to lift her head and see her mother.

She is taken on board a boat and after two hours they arrive at a village. People stare curiously. They enter the house where there are other children and a woman. That evening, she is abused. The next morning the other woman tells her that it hasn’t rained for weeks and she has to go get water from a well several kilometres away. A little boy accompanies her. Along the way no words are spoken; only the memories of the violence of the night. The days pass and the abuse continues. Three months later she is pregnant. She feels ashamed and desperate. She thought: “but how is it possible that I am expecting a child if I am still a child too?”

After eight months, a baby girl was born and Eleanor gave her the name Marie-Therese. She looked at the baby with sad eyes. A life born of violence. With each passing day, the man becomes more and more violent. He often comes home drunk in the evening. To add to the abuse she suffers from the man, the woman who lives there often beats her for not doing the housework.

One day, the man tells Eleanor that she has to go to work because he can’t support her and the little girl. So in the early hours of the morning when the sun is not yet high, Eleanor, with a large basket full of bananas, coconuts and sweet potatoes, goes to the market. The only consolation is that she can take little Marie-Therese with her. In the early afternoon, she returns with the money and gives it to her husband. She starts cleaning the house, fetching water and firewood.

Finally, she can sit down. She looks at the sea, gazing into the distance. She sees a group of children who, after climbing the bent trunk of a palm tree, dive into the turquoise water shouting with joy. Big tears appear on Eleanor’s face. She no longer dreams, she just waits for another day with no hope and no future.

(Huali Leret. Photo:

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