Protect learners from sex pests

Thursday, December 10th, 2020 00:00 |
Lugulu Girls High School students in Webuye, Bungoma protest alleged defilement of their 16-year-old schoolmate. Photo/PD/Yusuf Masibo

That it had to take a protest by students from Lugulu girls for their grievances about sexual harassment and assault in the school to be heard says a lot about the school’s and society’s approach to such issues.

For starters, it reveals a huge gap in understanding the dynamics of assault as well as the process of handling cases when they arise.

In many cases, schools will hide such situations to protect its name, but in doing so, they cause mental and psychological distress to the student - something that can lead to other life-long consequences.

Report shows that the Lugulu Girls incident is not the only one. In 2018, girls from Maasai Girls in Narok protested over harassment by a staff member.

The case from Moi Girls Nairobi is also close to our minds, just as the 1991 case of St Kizito Girls.

Reports also show that the Teacher Service Commission (TSC) has fired over thousands of teachers for sexually assaulting students.

In 2011, it released a circular with policies aimed at protecting children against sex abuse in schools. Almost 10 years later, cases are still happening.

This background indicates there is a gap in addressing sexual assault and harassment in school that needs to be setup immediately.

The process should not just stop at formulation of policies. There should be practical actions that need to be taken by schools, school boards, TSC, Ministry of Education and other stakeholders.

Are there anti-harassment policies in schools, and are teachers and students aware of them?

Are the policies created by TSC and the Education Ministry enforced in schools and are they being monitored and updated?

Are there systems of reporting and investigating such cases? Are there systems of support for the victims during the whole process?

These measures should also be taken up higher to colleges and universities, where, according to a 2019 survey, one in two female students and one in four male students are sexually harassed by a member of staff in university.

The survey by Action Aid showed that 66 per cent of students were victims of sexual harassment by a lecturer or professor.

Importantly, since schools reflect the society, interrogating social norms that promote sexual harassment and assault should be addressed in its entirety.

A comprehensive, multi-faceted and multi-stakeholder approach should be taken to ensure safety of children.

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