Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

Sex abuse in Kenyan schools

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 30 May 2011
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Sex abuse in Kenyan schools, 30 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4de49f1b2.html [accessed 31 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

MIGORI/NAIROBI, 30 May 2011 (IRIN) - Since discovering that her 13-year-old daughter was pregnant about a month ago, Juanita* has paid several visits to the local chief in her village in western Kenya, seeking justice for her daughter and punishment for the man who abused her.

"She told me it was her teacher who did it. I confronted him and he admitted [he was the father] - he told me we could just settle it as adults," Juanita, 47, told IRIN at her home in Migori District.

"We have been going to the chief because the teacher tells me he wants to marry my daughter and take care of the child, but I don't want that. Let him take care of the child who is a result of his bad behaviour, but leave my daughter alone because I want her to go on [with her education]," she added. "I am poor and now both my daughter's and my future have been ruined by somebody I respected most."

Recent media reports implicating an HIV-positive teacher in western Kenya in the sexual abuse of five girls aged between seven and 13, and a Muslim scholar in the country's eastern Coast Province in the sexual abuse of a dozen boys, have left Kenyan parents questioning just how safe their children are in school.

A 2009/2010 government report showed that at least 1,000 teachers had been dismissed from duty in that period for sexually abusing children. A separate study conducted between 2003 and 2009 revealed that 12,660 girls were sexually abused by their teachers, yet only 633 teachers were charged with sexual offences. Furthermore, 90 percent of sexual abuse cases involving teachers never reached the Teachers' Service Commission (TSC), responsible for monitoring and implementing teachers' codes of conduct.

Several laws, including the Children's Act and the Sexual Offences Act, criminalize sex with children under the age of 18, and in 2010, the TSC issued guidelines designed to protect children from sexual abuse in schools. The new rules ban students from visiting teachers' homes, warn teachers against using the promise of academic progress to coerce children into sexual liaisons and stipulate that any sexual abuse of a child should be reported to the commission within 24 hours.

"Any time we get reports about a teacher abusing a child, we will carry out our investigations and take appropriate action... We have released a circular to all schools detailing measures that should be implemented to reduce cases of sexual abuse of children in learning institutions, and we have prosecuted some offenders," said Nkatha Murungi, the TSC's public relations officer. "Any head teacher or any teacher for that matter who knows that a sexual offence has occurred within their school and fails to report it [will face disciplinary action]; TSC rules are very clear on this."

Few consequences

A 2009 study by Kenyatta University of more than 1,200 girls in 70 schools across 10 Kenyan districts found that when girls were impregnated by teachers, 45 percent of teachers suffered minor consequences, either a demotion, a transfer to another school or marrying the pregnant girl; an estimated 32 percent of teachers faced no consequences, while 25 percent were sacked. On the other hand, an estimated 76 percent of girls dropped out of school, with many others getting married, procuring abortions and even committing suicide; only 1 percent of those who left were able to rejoin school.

While the study found that 22 percent of teachers who impregnated girls were arrested, government and NGO officials say convictions for teachers who abuse children are rare, mainly due to the fact that unless a girl is pregnant, sexual abuse is difficult to prove. In addition, stigma means many families would rather keep the abuse under wraps and teachers often pay families to keep the cases out of court.

"Schools are the second highest after the family set-up where children are sexually abused. The authority over children exhibited at home is extended to school and amorous teachers are using this authority to sexually abuse children under their care," said Irene Nyamu, executive director of the NGO, Childline Kenya. "But we should extend this spotlight to religious institutions because even here, boys are getting sodomised and those reports are in the public domain.

"Orphaned children and those from poor backgrounds are very vulnerable because they lack basic needs and a teacher can use that to coerce them into a sexual relationship, putting them in danger of getting pregnant or getting infected and dropping out of school eventually," she added.

Sex for grades, goods

One of the reasons children rarely report sexual abuse by their teachers is because sex is often in exchange for good grades or material gain.

Esther*, Juanita's daughter, said: "He used to buy me good things like pens, shoes and he used to give me pocket money too; later he told me to take water to his house and while there, he started touching me and that is the first time we had sex," she told IRIN. "He said I would be his girlfriend because his wife was away; I feared him and would do everything he told me to."

According to Patricia Nyamolo, coordinator of Positive Mentors, a local NGO providing life skills to young girls, shame is another factor that prevents children and families from reporting these crimes.

"Many families still view sexual abuse of children as too stigmatizing to be made public and they don't report [it], making it extremely hard to implement the law... so it is kept under the rug and only when the child becomes HIV-positive or pregnant is it realized that someone must have been sexually abusing them.

"Head teachers rarely report abuse of children, either because they are the culprits or are acting to protect the image of the school," she added. "Many schools in Kenya are also sponsored by religious institutions who would normally want to keep such cases under wraps."

Geoffrey Cherongis, provincial director of education in Kenya's western Nyanza Province, says the failure to report sexual abuse makes his department's work that much more difficult. "The government has made it clear that it will not condone the sexual abuse of children in school... but we can't know unless it is reported to us.

"There are cases where parents collude with a teacher after the child becomes pregnant, and say the teacher will take care of the child," he added. "Some parents also benefit from gifts or money a child gets from a teacher... It is important to discourage parents from such arrangements."

Call centre

In 2008, Childline Kenya and the government set up a toll-free call centre where children can report abuse or others can report suspected cases of child abuse.
"Initially, it was hard to report abuse of children but since we set up a call centre, it is now easy to see the extent of these cases of abuse," said Ahmed Hussein, director of children's services at the Ministry of Gender. "It is refreshing because the TSC is now more proactive in dismissing abusive teachers from within its fraternity."

In 2009, out of the 28,988 calls made to the centre, 697 reported the sexual abuse of a child. Childline has since carried out awareness-raising campaigns in schools to increase the use of the service.

"There will be more initiatives to create knowledge about the existence of the call centre to increase its use," Hussein added.

More action needed

The initiative is limited, however, as in many rural areas, children cannot access telephones. While NGOs applaud the initiative, they say much remains to be done.

"The provision of a toll-free line has helped, but schools must also put measures within their systems that make it easy for victims to report abuse without feeling intimidated," said Positive Mentors' Nyamolo. "They must employ counsellors or designate a teacher for that role and at the same time provide suggestion boxes through which students can report [an abuser] either in school or at home."

Childline's Nyamu added that it was important to sensitize parents about the rights of their children. "It doesn't matter whether the culprit says they will take care of the child or marry them, it is important to sensitize parents to know that seeking justice for the child is the most important thing," she said. "Culprits must not be allowed to get way with such offences... Otherwise we continue hushing it up and put more children in danger."

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