Let’s protect children against sexual violence

Yvonne Laruni

What you need to know:

  • Schools must pay attention to both the prevention and response to sexual violence

Recently, the Monitor published a story of a school director in Luweero District, who was arrested for allegedly defiling six of his learners. In October, the Monitor also reported increasing cases of defilement in the Greater Bushenyi District.

While such stories are disturbing, they are sadly quite common in many schools nationwide, only that we do not hear about them because the perpetrators are never brought to book partly because this behaviour is now regarded “normal”.

The 2015 Uganda Violence Against Children and Youth Survey indicates that one in every three girls in Uganda has experienced sexual violence during their childhood. Some of this violence occurs at school, an institution meant to be a safe place for learners.

Cases of sexual violence against children continue to soar because many people do not fully know what constitutes this type of violence.  Sexual violence is any kind of sexual activity that happens without consent, which can include both attempted and, or completed acts. But it is important to note that children are minors and are legally incapable of providing consent to sexual activity.

In schools, sexual violence, which is perpetuated by some administrators, teaching, and nonteaching staff, and learners manifests in various ways such as asking learners for sexual acts in exchange of marks or other favours, threatening those who refuse to engage in sexual acts, fondling, exposing learners to pornographic materials, among others.

As the world commemorates the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence (GBV) under the theme “Unite! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls,” it is an opportunity for us to reflect on how our schools are protecting learners from sexual violence.  Addressing sexual violence in learning institutions requires schools to embrace a wholistic approach. This means schools must pay attention to both the prevention and response to sexual violence.

With over a decade of implementing the Good School Toolkit, Raising Voices has established some ideas that schools can use to address the issue of sexual violence.

First, creating a safe space and opportunities for both learners and teachers to discuss what constitutes sexual violence and why, when, and how sexual violence happens, as well as ways to respond to it, is one great step to dealing with the issue.

Establishing school policies that promote the safety of learners such as a school-wide anti-sexual violence policy, which describes and offers examples of sexual violence, guides learners on where to report, defines the process of investigation for cases reported, as well as penalties for perpetuators of sexual violence, including those who hold the power in the school.

Additionally, schools can identify designated teachers to whom learners can report cases of sexual violence. Schools can train these teachers on how to effectively support and respond to such cases.

Schools can also ensure all teachers and nonteaching staff understand and commit to a school-wide code of conduct, which prohibits them from engaging in any sexual relationships with their learners.

Another useful practice is orienting new students on the various school policies that prohibit all forms of sexual harassment and continuously guiding all learners to use suggestion boxes and other mechanisms that enable them to confidentially report sexual violence.

Most importantly, schools should commit to addressing all cases of sexual violence with the utmost seriousness. Prioritising safety of all learners and building their trust is an efficient way of preventing sexual violence in a school.

No school should tolerate any form of violence against children. A zero-tolerance policy will enable good relationships between learners, their peers, and teachers. With good relationships, learners can freely seek support when they experience sexual violence at school, as well as at home.

Together, we can use these 16 days of activism against GBV to reflect and advocate for investment in preventing violence against women and girls.

Ms Laruni works with Raising Voices.