As part of Plan International’s project interviewing children for the film Millennium Children: Say No to Sexual Violence in Schools, I discovered that this is a prevailing issue affecting girls’ education and their lives in Sierra Leone.
The perpetrators of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) are mostly male teachers. Young people in Moyamba told me, “Hardly a day passes without hearing about sexual violence including rape, sexual penetration or battery.” Despite the massive efforts of international organisations to combat this blight across Sierra Leone, the incidence seems to be rising.
Sexual violence by teachers
Teachers are often trusted more than real parents. But that’s not how girls in my community feel.
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. If the girl refuses to do these tasks, he will ask for love or sex.
Watch the video Nancy was involved in, produced, developed and filmed by youth, in cooperation with Plan International
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 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.”
Fear of reporting gender-based violence
There are already measures to protect girls in schools. 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.”
Sexual violence can destroy a girl’s future. We should not allow anyone to compromise.
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.”
End note: About our projects with girls in Sierra Leone
Plan International Sierra Leone is leading the way in promoting the rights of girls, and our programmes continue to strengthen community-based child protection mechanisms and national education systems. We are promoting child and youth participation to protect children from abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence, including during emergencies such as the most recent Ebola outbreak.
Through Because I am a Girl programmes, we have worked with girls to improve their safety, security and educational access while ensuring that they are equipped with the tools and skills needed to be advocates for change in their communities. In the last year we worked with over 15,000 young girls across Sierra Leone through 8 different projects.