KENYA: From The Classroom into the Bedroom
Photo: Kenneth Odiwuor/IRIN
|Girls who become involved with their teachers are often admired by their schoolmates|
For the past year, Karen Awuor*, 15, has had a new daily ritual– taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. She discovered she was HIV positive during an unintended pregnancy that forced her to drop out of school; her baby died after just four months.
“When I was in class seven, I got into a relationship with one of my teachers; he promised to pay my school fees if I agreed to be his wife,” she told IRIN/PlusNews. “But when I got pregnant with his child and dropped out of school, he turned against me and behaved like he never knew me in the first place.”
Teacher-student relationships are not uncommon in Kenya’s southwestern Nyanza Province, where Awuor lives. Geoffrey Cherongis, the Nyanza Provincial Director of Education, said sexual relationships between teachers and students were a threat to the health and future of the province’s girls, who make up less than 40 percent of students.
“Some teachers are living with HIV and spreading it to young girls, who hardly know the kind of thing they are getting into,” he said. “It is even more complicated because parents, especially those in rural areas, support these affairs for perceived economic gain.”
According to Kenya’s Centre for the Study of Adolescence, Nyanza has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, as well as one of the highest school dropout rates. Girls in Nyanza become sexually active at an average age of 16, compared to 19 in Nairobi Province. Nyanza’s high HIV prevalence of 15.3 percent, twice the national average, makes them particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.
Extreme poverty appears to be the main reason why girls in Nyanza become sexually active at a young age. More than 60 percent of residents live on less than US$1 per day, and the region also has the largest number of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“Poverty and high death rates, which leave girls orphans at an early age, make them want to get money by any means – not only to take care of themselves, but also to take care of their siblings,” said Luke Opondo, Bondo District’s AIDS and sexually transmitted infections coordinator.
Teachers are well-educated, earn a steady income and are often more affluent than most people in the province. Saulina Ondoro, 65, a grandmother caring for five teenage orphans, told IRIN/PlusNews she would not discourage a sexual relationship between her grandchildren and anybody who could offer money to help her care for them.
“They are old enough and I can hardly take care of them – if any of them can get a man to provide for them, why should I get in their way?” she said. Opondo noted that “Parents who bless these affairs to get money need be sensitised.”
|I get money and my peers in school respect me because dating a teacher is a big achievement for us girls|
The material benefits of such relationships mean that girls who become sexually involved with their teachers are often admired by their schoolmates. “I get money and my peers in school respect me because dating a teacher is a big achievement for us girls,” said Viviane Aoko*, 14, who is having a sexual relationship with her married teacher.
Some male teachers complain that girls actively seek out relationships with them in order to raise their economic status. “Some girls even put pictures of their nude bodies inside exercise books as they bring them to teachers for assignment assessment,” said Daniel Oloo, a teacher at a local girls’ secondary school.
Opondo said it was irresponsible of teachers to put the blame on students. “The claim by some teachers that these young girls approach them to create affairs does not wash, because these are teenagers, and they are adults who should act as their parents; a 45-year-old man cannot claim to be influenced by a 14-year-old girl.”
Many girls were, in fact, coerced into relationships with teachers. “It is a double tragedy for these girls; they cannot negotiate for safe sex because they are vulnerable, and they cannot report to authorities for fear of being victimised,” Opondo said.
“More sex education and punitive measures on teachers are the surest ways to deal with this kind of problem,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. Addressing poverty and the lack of economic support for orphaned girls was also important, he said.
The Ministry of Education has an HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education curriculum that focuses on upper-primary and secondary schools, but does not address the issue of teacher-student relationships, leaving school heads to deal with it at their discretion.
A 2006 study by the Population Council, an international non-governmental research organization, found that although Kenyan teachers were relatively well-educated, they were “confused or uninformed” about important aspects of HIV and AIDS.
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|More education equals less teen pregnancy and HIV|
“For example, many teachers are uncertain about the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV infection,” the study said. “This means that they are not likely to advocate their use, despite the existence of a generalised HIV epidemic in Kenya.”
*Not her real name