Are schools safe?

This is not a strange conversation or topic this year, is it?

As of May there have already been 23 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to more than 1 shooting a week.

The parameters CNN followed in this count are:
  • A shooting that involved at least one person being shot (not including the shooter)
  • A shooting that occurred on school grounds
  • We included grades K through college/university level
  • We included gang violence, fights and domestic violence
  • We included accidental discharge of a firearm as long as the first two parameters are met

These incidences left both parents and children afraid and angry in almost equal proportions  lives lost too soon but not only have we had shootings. In Africa, cases of rape and sexual harassment are prevalent in schools with teachers  being the main perpetrators.

One of the key criterias in the schools we have partnered with and have girls under the Scholarship Award is ” safe and vetted.” However, In Kenya, one in five women and men who experienced sexual violence before the age of 18 reported that the first incident occurred at school.
Read more at: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001283031/study-reveals-shocking-rate-of-sex-crimes-in-schools

A 2001 study by Human Rights Watch (cited in Bhana, 2012) on sexual violence against girls in South African schools provided evidence on the fear that girls live with while at school because of gender violence they encounter in the form of sexual coercion from teachers and boys.

The victims are least likely to speak out in fear of the shame and also as teachers are considered “moral/ highstanding” in some communities they wouldn’t be convicted or found guilty of their crimes.

Schools have covered up some situations and recently the Cabinet Secretary/ Teachers Service Commission blamed massive cover up over the incidences of sexual abuse in schools.

The 2005 UNICEF report puts this into perspective by outlining some of the reasons why school-related gender-based violence remains rampant:

Responses by education authorities to allegations of teacher sexual misconduct have usually been marked by complacency and obfuscation;

  • The lack of reliable statistical evidence with which to convince policymakers of the need to take action;
  • The silence surrounding what is seen as a sensitive issue, traditional cultural views that find sex between older men and young girls acceptable, and uncertainty among teachers, parents and children about how to report incidents are contributing factors;
  • Indeed, not all education officials, parents, teachers and the girls themselves disapprove of teachers having sexual liaisons with their students, especially in rural areas where marriage to a man with a government salary is much valued;
  • Some female students choose to use their sexuality as a commodity for economic or academic gain, or to gain status among their peers; and
  • Poor levels of accountability, lack of good management and professional integrity in the educational system allow teachers to act with impunity, to the point where in some situations the phenomenon is, if not endemic, a common and even accepted part of school life. This discourages victims from coming forward (Leach et al.,2014, pp 12-13).

Deliberate actions and protocools by parents and school administrators are needed. For parents;

Have you fostered an environment or relationship that allows your child to share when he/she s in trouble? Afraid? Harmed?

Follow this link for tips and insights; https://www.parenting.com/article/tips-child-sex-abuse-prevention

For the school administration, proposals such as the Girls Education Movement (GEM) South Africa should apply for a school to be student-friendly and centred are that all processes must be:

  1. Rights-based
  2. Gender-responsive
  3. Effective
  4. Health seeking and promoting
  5. Safe and protective
  6. Inclusive
  7. Work in partnership with the wider community, both public and private (UNICEF, 2006, p. 3).

The report further states:

Giving children a voice and a chance to participate in decisions that will affect them at home, in school and the community at large contributes to building tremendous self-esteem and courage through empowerment. Children are therefore more likely to stand up for themselves and take action against negative impacts on their lives (UNICEF, 2006, p. 3).

We must all be involved in keeping our children safe.

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