#16Days – “We need protection and safe schools.” Nancy reflects on SRGBV in Sierra Leone
As part of Plan International’s Project, interviewing Millennium Children about School Related Gender Base Violence (SRGBV), I discovered that this is a prevailing issue affecting girls’ education and their lives in general in Sierra Leone. The perpetrators are mostly male teachers. According to young people in Moyamba, “Hardly a day passes without hearing about sexual violence including rape, sexual penetration or battery.” There are chilling reports of children as young as four being sexually violated in our community. Despite the massive efforts of INGOs to combat this blight across Sierra Leone, the incidence seems to be rising.
Sexual violence by teachers
It scares me to even think about this issue and know that it will be difficult to combat SRGBV because girls here are vulnerable. Teachers are seen as parents and are often trusted more than real parents. But that’s not how girls in my community feel. I hope this will change one day.
In my community, there are many cases where a teacher is attracted to a schoolgirl. He will use his status to make her pay for things like exams, equipment or books – things he knows she cannot afford. He will then offer her money, or make her work for him on his land, launder for him, weed grasses and carry out some household chores. If the girl refuses to do these tasks, he will ask for love or sex.
Some teachers help vulnerable girls by paying her school fees, other equipment and in some cases promising to build her a house with the long term motive to have sex wit the girl.
Pressure from teachers and these unreasonable requests make girls worried about attending school. I spoke to a 17-year-old girl who is also a victim of such violence. She told me,“Most of us the girls are pressured for love and sexual intercourse by teachers for grades or to be promoted to the next class and this makes me frightened going to school each day.”
“Some teachers sexually harass or abuse us by inviting us to visit them at their house to get our grades,” she added. Some ask for money – Le 50,000 ($10) per subject. They say, “If your brain fails you, your pocket or purse should not fail you. If your pocket or purse fails you, your sexual organ (womanhood) should not fail you. Some teachers would say I will fail you if you don’t succumb to my gentleman’s agreement.”
Violence by male pupils
In some mixed schools with boys and girls there are limited toilet facilities so boys and girls have to share the same toilets. One student told me that toilets in her school were near to the bush and far from the main school building. Boys go and peep at girls when they use the toilet. This is very risky and dangerous for girls. In one case, a girl was raped by a male pupil in the toilet.
Fear of reporting SRGBV cases
There are already measures to protect girls in schools. For example, Teacher’s Code of Conduct, Sexual Offences Act and the 2007 Child Rights Act. But these laws are rarely implemented by the schools or law enforcement agencies. This means most cases are not even reported and because of the status of the culprit (usually teachers) they go unpunished.
Girls are also scared to report abuse because some teachers collude with each other to fail a girl who refuses sex. There’s a saying here, “a teacher never betrays his fellow teacher.” In some cases, the abusive teacher passes the girl in his subject, while conspiring with other teachers to fail her in other subjects.
Intervention from child protection agencies
As young girls we need protection and safe schools. One solution is raising awareness and advocacy with the government, child protection agencies and parents to ensure those who commit these crimes are punished. I find it disturbing that school authorities downplay these issues for fear that it will harm the reputation of the school. Parents should speak out and not compromise. A 13-year-old girl who was raped said to me, “Sexual violence can destroy a girl’s future. We should not allow anyone to compromise.”
Please click here for more information on Plan International’s ongoing commitments to eradicate SRGBV.
Watch the SRGBV video Nancy was involved in:
This video was produced, developed and filmed by youth, in cooperation with Plan International.