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Concern over rampant sexual exploitation of Senegal’s school girls

Dozens of Secondary school girls have admitted to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) that they were coerced into sexual relations by their teachers for better grades, food, mobile phones, and new clothes. School-related sexual, and gender-based violence is a serious problem in Senegal, HRW said in the report.



File picture. A pregnant student poses on July 29, 2013 in Pretoria at the Pretoria Hospital School specialised in teenage pregnancy. The Pretoria Hospital School, a Public School opened in 1950 and originally dedicated to sick children, is the only school of its kind in South Africa. Photo: ANP/AFP Stephane De Sakutin

In 2013 Plan International reported findings that 11% of children in Senegal named a teacher as being responsible for their pregnancy. This is despite the Senegalese government adopting an extensive child protection strategy to tackle cases of abuse and exploitation and working with international NGOs on programs to prevent teen pregnancies and other forms of abuse in secondary schools.

The Human Rights Watch researchers of the report titled, “It’s Not Normal: Sexual Exploitation, Harassment, and Abuse in Secondary Schools in Senegal” interviewed 160 girls and women, 60 parents, and government officials in eight districts of four regions in Senegal and ascertained that while the government has prosecuted cases perpetrators majority of them are not held accountable.

Researcher Elin Martinez told CNN, “The government wants girls to succeed in education,” Martínez said. “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.”

One of the interviewees is Fanta, a student from the Sédhiou region; an area with high teen pregnancy rates.


Senegalese classroom photo credit Pixnio

Read: Why Girls should tell their stories

“One day, he asked me to go to his house. When I went to his house, he offered to give me money and resources. And I told him no. … He became nasty, (he said) he was not going to give me good grades,” she said.

Interviewed girls said teachers would use inappropriate language or gestures directly at students or when referring to their students.

Although many school claim zero tolerance towards sexual harassment, exploitation and coercion some fail to disclose the activities of abusive staff members to the authorities or take action internally for reasons that range from cultural perceptions that girls and young women the pursuers; concern over staff retention, lack of clear and confidential reporting systems to fear of ‘tarnishing’ the institutions reputation.

The Human Rights Watch also indicated a lax use of the term “relationships” to describe the goings on, “Such characterization can downplay the gravity of the abuse, affect reporting, and blur school officials’ perception of the severity of these abuses.”

The director of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), Nora Fyles told CNN that they too are “desperately trying to get on top of it… This is not just a human rights issue. It is an education agenda issue, and we are aware of it. We cannot see it continue.”