Kenya: Combating Sexual Abuse
Thursday, June 2, 2011 5:10 PM

Recent incidents of sexual abuse in Kenyan schools have created an atmosphere of distrust amongst parents regarding the safety of their children in school. Specifically two cases created much perturbation, when five girls (between 7 and 13 years old) and then 12 boys were abused by their respective teachers. Moreover, statistics regarding the prevalence of these incidents also justify the preoccupation that haunts Kenyan parents. A report published between 2009 and 2010, for instance, stated that 1,000 teachers were fired from their positions within a period of one year because they perpetrated sexual abuse of children. 

Acknowledging the high incidence of sexual assault in Kenya, necessary legislation has been installed and strengthened. The Children's Act and the Sexual Offenses Act, for instance, now prohibit intercourse between adults and minors (individuals under the age of 18). Similarly, the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC), a committee that monitors and implements behavior of academia, has instituted guidelines that ban students’ visits to teachers’ homes; make it illegal for teachers to exchange sexual favors for good grades or material gains; and demand that all abuse be reported to the commission within 24 hours. Nkatha Murungi, the TSC's public relations officer, emphasizes the ubiquitous responsibility to report sexual abuse when she says that "any head teacher or any teacher for that matter who knows that a sexual offense has occurred within their school and fails to report it [will face disciplinary action]". 


Despite these measures to limit the incidence of sexual abuse, little change has materialized however, as proven by a study conducted by Kenyatta University. This study finds that “when girls [are] impregnated by teachers, 45 percent of teachers [suffer] minor consequences, [and] an estimated 32 percent of teachers [face] no consequences.” On the contrary, “76 percent of girls dropped out of school, with many others getting married, procuring abortions and even committing suicide.” Moreover, a study carried out between 2003 and 2009 found that, while 12,660 girls suffered sexual abuse by their teachers, only 633 teachers (20 percent of the total) were found guilty of said crime. Similarly, only 10 percent of sexual abuse cases involving teachers are reported to the TSC.


The inadequate rates of accountability or reporting are due to the difficulty in proving sexual abuse, the stigma surrounding abuse which inhibits parents from filing reports, and the fact that the authorities expected to make the reports are either culprits themselves or trying to protect the school’s image. Similarly, the propensity of orphaned or low-income children to accept money or goods in exchange for silence makes reporting more difficult. This latter issue is simultaneously a cause of the sexual act within itself.   


Recognizing these dissatisfying report rates, sexual abuse is also being combatted through a coordinated effort on behalf of NGOs and the Kenyan government. In 2008, Childline Kenya, for instance, installed a toll-free number where sexual abuse victims or others can report abuse or suspicion of child abuse. In 2009 alone, this call center reported 697 cases of child sexual abuse. “ It is refreshing because the TSC is now more proactive in dismissing abusive teachers from within its fraternity," the director of children's services at the Ministry of Gender Ahmed Hussein says. Nonetheless, more work still needs to be done for Childline to be effective, since children in rural areas for example lack telephone access. As Patricia Nyamolo, coordinator of local NGO Positive Mentors, says, "schools must also put measures within their systems, [such as counsellors or a designated teacher,] that make it easy for victims to report abuse without feeling intimidated." Parental knowledge of child rights should also be addressed because it inhibits parents from demanding justice.


Compiled from: "Analysis: Sex Abuse in Kenyan Schools", IRIN(30 May 2011)