Shocking details of sex abuse in Kenyan schools

Sunday November 1 2009

Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairman Cleophas Tirop (centre), Education  PS Karega Mutahi (right) and TSC commissioner Peterson Muthathai. Mr Tirop acknowledges the sex abuse problem  but called for a nationwide study to establish its true extent. Photo/FILE

Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairman Cleophas Tirop (centre), Education PS Karega Mutahi (right) and TSC commissioner Peterson Muthathai. Mr Tirop acknowledges the sex abuse problem but called for a nationwide study to establish its true extent. Photo/FILE 

By SAMUEL SIRINGI

Shocking details have emerged on the extent to which school girls fall prey to sexual predators — their own teachers. Up to 12,660 girls were sexually abused by teachers over a five-year period, reveals a government report to be launched on Monday.

The report by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) says that in some cases, teachers abused as many as 20 girls in a single school before they were reported.

Serial offenders

The survey, which captured data between 2003 and 2007, said the 12,660 girls estimated to have been abused in schools over the period were enough to fill 79 single-streamed primary schools that have an average of 40 girls a class.

According to the report, done jointly with non-profit Centre for Rights Education and Awareness, some teachers were serial sexual offenders and molested girls from one school to another because when caught they were simply transferred and no action was taken against them.

The report found that only 633 teachers were charged with sexual abuse in the five years covered by the study, but that was only the tip of the iceberg — most cases went unreported. Records at the TSC were not clear on the number of school girls abused.

On Sunday, Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association Cleophas Tirop acknowledged the magnitude of the problem but called for a nationwide study to establish its true extent. He said the TSC had only based its findings on the reports that reached the commission but it needed to interview teachers and students to establish more about the problem.

“It is not a well-researched report since they did not get to the ground,” he said. “The problem is there and we need the facts so that we can confront it.” Although the number of teachers was small compared to the 240,000 working for the TSC, the report warned that the actual cases of abuse were quite high because some teachers abused as many as 20 pupils.

So bad is the situation that data collected from the survey showed that majority of TSC staff perceived sexual abuse in schools as pervasive. One officer said: “Hiyo kitu imekuwa too much lakini report hazifiki TSC (sexual abuse of school girls is rampant but the reports do not get to TSC.”

Yet another respondent said: “The whole business is disgusting and annoying ... the offenders should be castrated.” Another male participant made a simple verdict on the molesters: “Just execute them. They are useless alive.” The survey, an overview of TSC procedures, systems and policies for addressing girl child sexual abuse in schools, established that the vice was “rampant and endemic”, but majority of the cases were getting to the TSC on average three months after the offence had been committed.

The report also faults the TSC over the punishment given to guilty teachers — dismissing and removing a culprit from the register irrespective of whether he molested one or 10 girls. “Teachers charged with multiple molestations, therefore, get the same punishment as those with a single one,” it said.

Media reports

Data collected from questionnaires indicated that 53 per cent of the respondents viewed sexual abuse of girls by teachers as very high. Only 13.3 per cent of the respondents thought the vice was uncommon.

The report questioned why some teachers would regard the existence of the vice as low when local media were awash with reports of sexual abuse of girls. The report found out that more than 90 per cent of sexual abuse cases never reached the TSC, meaning the cases were higher than thought.

Failure to report the cases to the TSC was attributed to collusion between teaching staff and education officials who often resorted to cover-ups. In some cases, education officials and the offenders intimidated victims. Parents were also ignorant of TSC disciplinary procedures, and sometimes preferred to hush up the abuse for fear that their daughters would be stigmatised.

Informal settlements, often presided over by local leaders and administrators such as councillors, chiefs and village elders, were also a big problem. In some cases, the abused girls and their parents were given cash as compensation; or the offenders offered to marry the girls.

“Low rates of reporting exacerbate the prevalence rates as more and more teachers take advantage of the kangaroo courts and the ignorance of parents,” said the report. The report showed that parents, head teachers and district education officials were the greatest hindrance to reporting of the cases to the TSC.

“In an instance where the parent is totally negative about proceeding with the case, said the report, then the entire process is impaired.” It said the fact that headteachers and education officials were identified as discouraging the cases from proceeding to the TSC indicated an almost lost battle.

The study showed that 73 per cent of the culprits taken to the TSC sought leniency on the fact that they were the sole bread winners of their families. Their case was interpreted to mean they loved their jobs and perhaps they would not have engaged in the vice had they been given proper advice on the consequences.

Some offenders argued they were good teachers producing good results in their schools. “This argument has for quite some time sold well to the parents and a number of press reports have highlighted the parents’ role in protecting amorous teachers,” the report said of the good results argument.

The report blames TSC’s disciplinary procedures, saying they contributed in delayed justice in sexual abuse cases. According to the rules, the cases are supposed to be reported by headteachers. In the event that such cases are reported directly to the teachers, then the TSC writes to the headteachers to confirm the allegations in the case of secondary schools and district education officials in the case of primary schools.

Some of the cases are also handled by school boards and committees before they are taken to higher levels. In handling by different players, says the report, some of evidence is lost along the way and distortions are common.