An edited version of this post was uploaded on The Times of Malta.
A few hours before 17-year-old Polina Rahman was found on Tuesday evening, I had written a post calling for more rigorous enforcement of regulations with regards teenagers who come to Malta to study English.
I removed the post later that day out of respect for the family of the unfortunate teenager. With the facts still not confirmed, the last thing the Rahman family needed was speculation about “what might have been”.
However – as has been pointed out by the many readers who managed to read the post – never have the questions I raised in it been so pertinent as in the wake of this tragedy. And this is why I am carrying the main points once again here, below.
Who was it who failed this 17-year-old teenager so badly that she was out, unsupervised, in Paceville at 4 in the morning?
As Maltese we tend not to find anything strange or worrying about the fact that a minor was out partying so late (early?). Teenagers staying out till the small hours are a common sight and more often than not there is no harm done.
It’s part of our coming of age, because Malta is a safe place and the worst thing that can happen to a teenager is a bad hangover the following day. This is only true as long as the teenagers involved are Maltese. For all our supposed prudishness, we tend to get streetwise at quite a young age. Thanks to less-than-draconian laws, we also experience alcohol extremely early in life.
As opposed to the situation in other countries, clubbing is something that only younger teens love – by the time we’re 19 most of us are sick and tired of the scene. Abroad, the same aged counterparts would have barely yet experienced any nightlife whatsoever.
Yes, the Maltese teens are a wordly lot and Paceville is their backyard. Not so for foreign students, who tend to hail from countries where minors are treated like minors. For most, their studying holiday in Malta constitutes the first time they go out unsupervised in the evenings.
The evidence that this whole foreign students lark needs to be better regulated has been staring us in the face for a while. Now it’s turned to bite us, with a vengeance.
The regulations are there, but it’s pretty evident that their enforcement is somewhat lacking. Whoever made it possible for a 17-year-old girl who had just arrived in a strange land to be meandering unsupervised at that hour, in that location has a lot to answer for.
It’s all very well for the English language schools and associations to issue a flurry of press statements, falling over themselves to inform us that “it wasn’t their school” that’s the culprit, or that the student in question had signed up for a course that enforces only a “recommended” curfew.
We don’t really care about the excuses. What we care about is that one young life has been cut short.