“I was teaching a girl in 2011. She was 13 years old. I liked her because she was beautiful. I manipulated her grades. If she got a good grade, I tried to lower it. I’d humiliate her in class and she finally agreed to meet me,” the unnamed teacher revealed to Unreported World. He had forced a student into having sex with him – a practice known as “sex for grades” – which remains widespread in many African states. The child in question left school soon after, forgoing her education because of the trauma of sexual abuse.
Despite wishing to remain anonymous, the man, who is still a teacher, spoke candidly about his assault of a minor on camera because he said that the custom is so prevalent that he was not worried about having charges pressed against him. He believed that this kind of exploitation remains rampant since it may be difficult to truly stamp it out of society.
He initially discovered that teachers could wield their authority in this manner when he was a student himself and a teacher asked him to take a girl to his house.
There are little records of how many teachers in African countries engage in the practice, and very rarely do the perpetrators face prosecution. Most of the cases go unreported due to the shame and stigma attached. As a result, innumerable young girls face gender-based violence, which includes sexual abuse, exploitation, and rape by male teachers.
Filmmaker Kiki King, who shot the documentary in Mozambique, told Marie Claire that countless girls are bullied into having sex in exchange for good grades at school. She said that the students are often led to believe that if they do not have sexual relationships with their teacher, they are going to fail the year.
“In terms of people being prosecuted and going to jail, I really struggled to find anyone,” King said.
“What it comes down to is the same problem with sexual violence anywhere in the world under any circumstances; it’s one girl’s word against one man’s word. And unfortunately, women are often blamed for things that happened to them – they’re not believed and they’re not taken seriously.”
Also known as “sexually transmitted grades”, teachers employ various tactics to lure the underage girls into sexual relationships. Apart from the promise of good grades, they may also bribe her with things like mobile phones, clothes, food, and other gifts. The harassment and manipulation generally occurs by the teacher accosting the students either during or after school time. More often than not, girls feel fearful to turn down the lascivious advances out of worry that they may get lower grades or be punished in some other way.
If the sexual assault does become public, the blame is often placed on the girl with the belief that she dressed provocatively or displayed a certain type of demeanour to warrant the unwanted attention from the teacher.
In instances where the girl becomes pregnant, instead of seeking out justice for the sexual assault of a minor, most families prefer to negotiate with the man to provide financial support. Furthermore, in African culture, taboos associated with underage pregnancies mean that the girl will also face the backlash of being a social outcast and her education will come to an abrupt end.
Human Rights Watch believe that the sexual overtones girls experience at school are heavily influenced by gender stereotypes. Some girls told the organisation that teachers had a tendency to use inappropriate language and behaviour – for instance, describing girls’ bodies or clothes in a sexual manner when speaking to students.
While these situations are often nonchalantly characterised as a “relationship” between a teacher and student, Human Rights Watch condemned the practice, stating that it undermines the gravity of the abuse, affects reporting, and blurs the perpetrators’ perception of the severity of these abuses and that cases should be treated, and prosecuted, as sexual exploitation and abuse of children.