By Azi Jicholia and Adedayo Onabade
UNESCO defines school-related Gender-Based Violence as ‘acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated because of gender norms and stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics.’ Unfortunately, one of the most significant enablers of this scourge is the lack of punitive measures and consequences by the appropriate authorities – in this case, the school authorities.
Indeed, there are many other issues such as under-reporting of incidents due to the fear of not being believed, misinformation about what constitutes improper conduct and many more. However, the response of school authorities is an important one, as this helps to serve as a deterrent to other perpetrators and nip the crime in the bud. Also, as the employer of labour, the school commands the greater leverage to ensure justice is carried out, more than the survivor’s parents.
Sadly, in Nigeria, these institutions of learning, which are meant to protect children from every form of violence, have failed at different points. Students who are innocent members of society and budding individuals who are only just learning how to relate to the world are sadly exposed to many dangers, including sexual violence from staff members. By failing to secure children’s interest, school authorities imply that they are only engrossed with profit-making rather than nation-building through the development and nurturing of wholesome individuals.
Take, for instance, the unfortunate case of Karen-Happuch Akpagher, a 14-year old boarding student of Premiere Academy, Lugbe Abuja, who died from sepsis after a condom was left in her. Undoubtedly, the school has built itself an infamous reputation, as ex-students have also attested to the claims that the school is complicit in these matters of sexual abuse.
Also worthy of note is the case of Chrisland School Supervisor Adegboyega Adenekan, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 2-year old pupil. The pupil’s mother has been granted interviews sharing how the school had asked what the family wanted, implicitly seeking to settle the matter and ‘make the case go away. She also shared how other school staff members of the school cast aspersions on her, turning her into an enemy and setting security guards to follow her around the school premises. The school administration itself also released statements claiming the allegations were false and merely dismissed the whole saga as ‘witch hunting’ and conspiracy to dent the school’s image. Thankfully, Adenekan has since been sentenced to 60 years imprisonment, a verdict that was upheld after appeals were made.
Another example is the 11-year old student of Deeper Life High School Uyo, who was sexually assaulted by senior students, which only came to light after his mother cried out via Facebook.
From the preceding cases, it is easy to see an infliction of double suffering on victims and their families, first by the act of sexual violence and next by clamping them down in their demand for justice.
What must be done?
- Consent education: This will help raise awareness on sexual assault and improper conduct and help children understand that nobody has the right to touch them inappropriately.
- Adoption of a zero-tolerance culture: With more clarity on the consequences of sexual violence, it becomes easier to place the responsibility on erring members of society.
- Introduction of strict laws to prevent shielding or abetting criminals.
- Safe and accessible means of reporting incidents
- Improving monitoring and accountability systems
No doubt, in Nigerian schools, sexual crimes have become commonplace, a scary reality for any parent. However, we must realise that this has far-reaching consequences on the health and well-being of the child. And as such, beyond mere suspension or termination of employment, the course of justice must be adequately served by ensuring that the law is involved. Remember, it doesn’t end here. Sexual abuse happens in all walks of life, from tertiary institutions to the workplace. Stopping it early on is the way to make sure our world is safe for everyone, child and adult.
School-Related Gender-Based Violence