Sexual Abuse and Education in Zambia
Child sexual abuse harms everyone. It harms children physically and psychologically. And it harms society by holding back children’s participation and achievement in education and therefore in building a stronger nation. Zambia, as a nation, is determined to eradicate the sexual abuse of children. A holistic approach to tackling the issue is showing promising results, as this article demonstrates.
There are many reasons why children face sexual abuse; they vary between countries and cultures. The abuse may come from within or beyond the family. In Zambia, reasons include:
- belief that sex with a child can cure HIV/AIDS, and that children are ‘safe’, HIV-free sexual partners
- belief that sex with children can bring success to your business
- rituals like child sexual cleansing: a widow(er) has sex with a child to prevent the ghost of the deceased spouse causing trouble.
Effects on education
Children who are sexually abused suffer psychological damage which can affect their behaviour and the way they socialise with teachers and peers in school. They may contract HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. These children are often absent from school. In addition to ill-health, they face discrimination and even bullying by peers and teachers – because they are HIV positive and because they have been sexually active – and so they drop out of education. Abused children may lack interest in education or experience poor concentration as their minds are preoccupied with bad memories. Girls may face early pregnancy and/or be forced to accept early marriage to avoid disgracing their families. Inevitably the academic performance of these children is affected.
Interventions through education
Inclusive education approaches can play an important role in identifying and supporting such pupils. Flexibility, open communication, acceptance of marginalised groups, and a focus on individual learners’ needs will help us to uphold abused children’s right to education, despite the traumas they have experienced. However, as the Zambian example shows, there needs to be a more holistic approach to tackling child sexual abuse, and the education system can play a key role.
The Zambian Ministry of Education has developed a number of programmes. It has strengthened the guidance and counselling departments in schools, where children are sensitised on the dangers of HIV and how to protect themselves from abuse. Each teacher is responsible for protecting learners and counselling them. Clubs such as the Anti-AIDS and Forum for African Women in Education have been formed in schools. Such clubs sensitise pupils on child rights and HIV/AIDS through plays, music and poetry. Since some children are more vulnerable to abuse because of the poverty they and their families face, the Ministry and some NGOs have begun to sponsor their education.
‘The old man promised me a lot of money and gifts. He also warned me against revealing this to anybody. That is how he had sex with me. The sexually transmitted infection I contracted made me reveal the issue’, Jane, aged 14*
Interventions in society
The wife of Zambia’s President launched the Bus Stickers Campaign Against Child Sexual Abuse in December 2004, aimed at educating the wider population. Through the national media, role models – eg, the first President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the Zambia Police Service Spokesperson and famous musicians – have been used to convey awareness-raising messages about the issue. Law enforcement departments and NGOs, UN bodies and church organisations have also played a big role. Chiefs have warned their communities not to engage in abusive practices, and have also spoken against traditional practices like child sexual cleansing and marrying young girls.
Following these various interventions at different levels in society, the traditional silence about sexual abuse has been broken. Many abuse cases have been reported since the nation openly ‘declared war’ on this problem and abusers have received punishment under the law.
*Name has been changed to protect the child’s identity