Adultification (noun): the process or fact of treating or considering a child as if they are an adult, usually in a way that is wrong or harmful.

For Black women, this concept is not just a word; it’s a lived experience that begins well before they reach adulthood.

Black women have a rite of passage in which they quietly understand that they may be treated as if they are twice their age. Even before adulthood, we realise that we must be more responsible than other children.

Research studies have shown that the consensus across societies is this – Black girls require less caring and protection, Black girls require less support, and Black girls are more autonomous. Black girls are more knowledgeable about sex – how wild?!

People will naturally draw conclusions about me as a Black girl, and those conclusions are more than not harmful.

I’ve experienced the dark nature of adultification more often than I can tell. As a child, I was never seen as just a child; I was seen as a child who was mature enough to hear grown-up conversations and not receive sufficient help or guidance from those who were supposed to offer it. Please, what business does a 10-year-old black girl have to engage in discussions about marital affairs?

My friend, Xola Sibu (24), explained, “There were often times when I was playing in primary school and got hurt and instead of being nurtured, I was asked what I was doing in the first place while the white kids got attended to with plasters immediately.”

This is not just based on personal experience but factually. By the age of five, Black girls are perceived as more mature than their white counterparts. Not only is this depriving, but the constant strain of being perceived as more grownup removes any capacity to experience a fundamental essence of childhood: innocence in its truest form.

The adultification of young Black girls remains a pervasive social issue with negative consequences. This concept stems back to African enslavement when children as young as two or three were forced to work as adults and penalised for engaging in age-appropriate behaviours.

Historically, recognising Black youngsters as adults justified harsher punishments and hence excused racist abuses. Therefore, Black girls being viewed as “fast” or promiscuous is just by virtue of their continued existence.

Gym enthusiast Siya Manda (23) said, “I started gyming from a very young age because being “thick” meant being seen differently, very mature and ready for any sexual activity. I hated the way I looked and couldn’t take it anymore. People look at you so much differently as a black girl”.

The consequences can be seen throughout popular culture. According to Taryn Finley of the Huffington Post, this cultural attitude is a significant reason why R. Kelly, whose accusers were mostly Black women and girls, was able to maintain his fame despite decades of child sexual assault charges. He walked around unchallenged because his victims were black girls, which means they must have been promiscuous and deserved it – pathetic.

Social worker Tanda Wandile (30) expands on this, “This kind of thinking is exactly why we see so many black girls and women staying silent, not reporting anything and thinking that it’s their fault that any form of assault has happened to them. It’s a painful cycle”.

It has been demonstrated repeatedly that people do not listen to Black girls and women. When people treat Black girls as adults, they are less inclined to listen to them or search for them if they disappear, and this is what the R-Kelly case showed us.

Black girls have the right to be children before they become parents, caretakers, homemakers, community leaders, or elders. They deserve to be free.

In which instances have you been subjected to adultification as a black girl? Share your story.