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ONEYA: Why using love to define teacher-student relationships is wrong

Wednesday September 19 2018

A pregnant schoolgirl. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

A pregnant schoolgirl. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A tawdry headline in a local newspaper implying that it’s possible for a teacher and a high school student to have a “love relationship” bothered me to no end.

The story stated that there was a wave of teacher-student “love relationships” that had hit a certain county and that the teachers had either been transferred or suspended because of it.

The story went on to elaborate how some teachers had lured students into bars during a sports trip. Not for love, as you rightly imagine. So why call the relationship love? Where is the love there? Through whose eyes are we telling the story?

What I see is power play. And love is simply the power broker here.

Consent simply does not exist in such a power relationship.

Let me give a brief background of myself before I speak to what I think is wrong about the headline.

Like many other teenage girls, I battled with crushes on teachers (and boys) while growing up. Call them growing up pains, if you want.

I listened to love songs by the boy band Westlife. Sample these lines from their song “My Love” where they crooned about love:  I wonder how/ I wonder why/ I wonder where they are/ The days we had/ The songs we sang together/ Oh yeah/ And all my love/ I'm holding on forever/ Reaching for…. I imagined what life would be like if only my crushes loved me back.

Well, there was Westlife, and then there were the Mills&Boon novels that I binged on which coloured my reality with images of picket fences, 2.5 children and rich, handsome men.


But I was just a child. And I was confusing the surge in hormones for love. If the male teachers had decided to act on my urges (and their urges, too, in retrospect), then the result would not have been a love relationship, as the headline I’m miffed about suggests, but defilement, according to Kenyan law. As long as I was under 18. Regardless of whether there was consent or not. Regardless of whether the girl or boy “seduced” the man or woman or not as one person suggested during an interaction on social media.

The phrase "love relationship" sanitises what would essentially be statutory rape if these teachers were charged in court. Let's just call a spade for what it is. These girls (and boys in other reported incidents) are victims. These teachers are predators.

I choose not to take this lightly, keeping in mind that over 40 per cent of all new HIV infections occur among adolescents aged 15-24 years.

"People fall in love, regardless of age, status etc., if the two consented it’s a 'love relationship'. Yeah we cannot blame the teachers, what if they (students) seducing these’s all wrong but happening," argued the story editor during an interaction on Twitter.

I hope your reaction here is: What?

“But these students are children. They could be 14, 15, 16 or 17 for all we know. The teachers are the adults here,” I shot back, and was met with silence.


This must have been the language of silence that Yvonne Owuor referred to during an interview with Daily Nation when she said: “I am startled by how much silence has re-entered the Kenya vocabulary and our interactions, the expanding silences between peoples of different political persuasions, and, more alarmingly, of different ethnic persuasions.”

Our job in the media is to report the truth. As Johnson Mwakazi said in a recent talk I attended, we should (and must) consider ourselves as soldiers in the battlefield. Out to get the truth. And we have a more sacred role, that of being watchdogs in the society. So if a teacher is having a sexual relationship with a student under 18 years, then we owe it to everybody to call it what the law demands that we call it: defilement, not love.

If chasing after clicks and eyeballs with sensational headlines is what we treasure more than providing a balanced view, then we have lost the plot.

I’m no moralist (as some called me after my last article) but I have a strong conviction that we (in the media) need to play our role in stopping the ruin of Kenya’s moral edifice.


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