Sexual Abuse the Hidden Cost of Going to School


A new report launched by the Government of Liberia and a consortium of NGOs, has exposed the astonishing scale of sexual abuse of students in Liberian schools.

‘Passing the Test – the real cost of being a student’ finds that almost one in five students, including both girls and boys, state that they have been abused by teachers or school staff.

The Passing the Test report is based on interviews with 1,858 of students in Bong, Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Grand Gedeh Counties.

The report, which reveals an alarming picture of widespread abuse of children and young people, says that nearly a third of students interviewed (32%) state that they are experiencing gender-based violence related to school. Significantly, this is more prevalent for boys (35%) than girls (29%).

“Almost 18% of school girls and just over 13% of school boys reported having been asked for sex to get a better grade,” the report further says.

‘Passing the Test’ contains specific recommendations for action to tackle the abuse, including, “Enforce the Code of Conduct among teachers and school administration staff; successfully prosecute child abuse cases. Prevent offenders from being reemployed in schools” and “Minimize indirect costs for parents of schooling, an important driver of abuse.”

Speaking at the launch, Deputy Minister of Education (MoE) for Instruction, Madam Hawa Goll-Kotchi said “It is important that this report has come out at a time when the Education System in Liberia is going through reform. The Ministry is very keen on cleaning up the classrooms for all our children. One thing the MoE is taking on currently is to finalize and disseminate the National Teachers Code of Conduct to all schools across the country jointly with development partners. This will essentially put in place a robust monitoring framework to mitigate gender – based violence in our schools with more practical steps beginning academic 2014/2015.”

Save the Children Country Director Ranjan Poudyal said “Today Government and NGOs have published research proving that sexual abuse is extremely widespread in Liberian schools. No child should have to suffer any kind of sexual abuse or violence. Sexual abuse damages children, and undermines their future. It is unacceptable that children need to risk abuse just in order to go to school. Save the Children believes that a school should be a place where children are secure and their rights to education, protection and development promoted. Save the Children hopes that these findings spark new urgency in attempts government, donors, civil societies and communities to put an end to these terrible abuses.”

Sheila Donaghy, NRC Country Director in Liberia, too, stated, “The experiences shared by the brave students in the report being launched today, remind all of us of our duty to ensure that the rights of children and young people are promoted and protected. No student should have to suffer any kind of sexual abuse or violence in any environment and more specifically in our schools. It is very concerning that sexual exploitation and abuse of children, has become a norm in schools and communities.  It is unacceptable that a child is asked for sex in exchange for grades. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) who globally promotes “rights respected and people protected” is very hopeful that the report launched today will build a foundation to ignite action that will steer Liberian children to enjoy their right to education and to feel protected in their schools and in their communities”

‘Passing the Test’ has been published by a consortium of government and non-governmental agencies working in Liberian schools. The consortium includes Liberia’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Gender and Development, the Association of Liberian Universities, IBIS, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, and Concern Worldwide.

The report is based on a research commissioned by IBIS, Concern Worldwide, Save the Children and NRC and carried out by Cuttington University in Liberia and Rutgers University in USA. This involved 120 group discussions with 1,858 students aged 10 to 20 years in four counties: Bong, Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh and Montserrado.

It studies gender-based violence perpetrated in Liberian schools by both teachers and students.

The experience, or even the threat, of school related gender-based violence has devastating and long-lasting impact on children. This includes irregular attendance, dropout, poor school performance, and low self-esteem, which may follow them into their adult lives.

Gender-based violence in school is a serious violation of children’s rights and directly contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Liberia is a signatory. All children, girls and boys, have the right to learn in a safe, protective environment.

The Passing the Test report also finds that abuse does not stop at the school gates:

  • 96% reported they had experienced at least one form of abuse either at school or elsewhere[1]
  • 30% of girls and 22% of boys reported that they had been forced to have sex when they didn’t want to at least once

The report also provides a startling insight into some of the reasons abuse is so common.

Financial hardship and indirect costs appear to be fuelling the problem. At times, children are asked for sex to get a better grade. In other occasions, they are asked for sex in return for money or help.

‘Passing the Test’ also examines attitudes that foster abuse:

  • 46% of boys and 34% of girls agreed that ‘sexual violence and abuse is a normal part of a man-woman relationship’
  • 59% of boys and 63% of girls agreed that ‘men and boys sometimes have a good reason to use violence against women and girls’

In some cases families appear to know about abuse, but do not act. One respondent replied that “The child may be sleeping with the teacher. The families are not proud but they may see this as a good connection for the child or a good source of cash. If the family is proud, it’s because they think the teacher will marry their daughter.”

‘Abuse’ of children here ranges from ‘peeping’, touching breasts or penis, asking for sex in exchange for something, through to rape.



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