A Report by Human Rights Watch Sheds Light on Sexual Exploitation of Female Students in Senegal
On Oct. 18 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released an 85-page report titled “‘It’s Not Normal’: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment, and Abuse in Secondary Schools”. The report is the result of interviews with 160 women of various ages, including psychologists, local activists, survivors of sexual abuse, parents, and government employees.
The findings? Female students, ranging in age with some as young as 16, reported that they were coerced into having sex with their teachers or other school employees in exchange for food, good grades, nice clothes, or cellphones.
This is not an isolated or small problem.
In 2013, a report by Plan International found “that 11% of children in Senegal named a teacher as being responsible for their pregnancy.”
The Senegalese government has tried to enact policies that protect children against a variety of types of violence. Despite these efforts, many groups, including the United Nations and multiple INGO’s, say that sexual harassment, violence, and exploitation are serious problems affecting Senegal and urge the government to take further action to curb them in schools.
"The government wants girls to succeed in education. But it needs to end the culture of silence around abuse by teachers, encourage girls to speak out, and send an unequivocal message to all education staff that it will not tolerate sexual violence against students," Martinez told CNN.
However, there are many reasons why this problem has been able to persist.
In Senegal, you can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison for having sexual relations with a student. While some teachers have been prosecuted, many simply aren’t held accountable for their actions.
One of the reasons for this is school administration. School principals will cover up students allegations against their teachers to protect the reputation of the school.
Another reason has to do with a lack of safe options that students have to come forward. Most schools don’t possess any type of confidential system where students can report sexual abuse against them or fellow classmates. In many cases, girls won’t even tell their families that they’ve gotten pregnant because of the stigma and shame that come with it.
Still, in other cases, families of the victims will prefer to negotiate with men who have impregnated their daughter, “including reaching agreement with the men to provide financial support for the girls during pregnancy,” rather than to search for justice through official networks.
There is no easy solution in the fight against sexual abuse in schools, but if this report tells us anything, it’s that this is something that needs to be fought.