When a Girl Student Stands Up and Wins

Fighting teacher-student rape in Zambia

Sally Chiwama – WNN Features

Zambian school poster
A sex-safety school poster for students in Lusaka, Zambia. Image: Joshua Treviño

(WNN) Lusaka, ZAMBIA, AFRICA: In Feb 2006, only three months before the Zambian government ratified the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, a young girl student was calculatingly raped by her greatest authority figure, her own school teacher.

The minor and her guardian sued the teacher, along with the school and the Zambian Ministry of Education one year later, achieving a first ever court victory in Zambia on June 30, 2008.

During the case presiding Judge, Philip Musonda, made his assessment in the High Court of Lusaka. “The government is responsible for all school going children in the care of its agents — such as teachers, school authorities and any other person in it’s employment during the time the schools are in session,” he said. The case brought a K45m award (approx $13,000+ USD and $45million Zambian Kwacha) to the plaintiff, a girl who was only 13 at the time of the crime.

When Children Trust their Teachers

According to a CARI – Children at Risk in Ireland Foundation – 2006 report, Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Child Protection, “Perpetrator psychological rehabilitation is an extremely important prevention strategy; for example, a sexual aggressor who begins abusing during adolescence and is not rehabilitated is estimated to commit an average of 380 sexual offences during his lifetime.”

13 yr old Kalenga Mutale (not her real name) was like all children and pupils who idolize their teachers. When she was about to begin work on her ninth grade final exams, she innocently asked her instructor if she could see her past test papers. “Conveniently,” Kalenga’s teacher, Edward Hakasenke, forgot the papers, even after being asked more than three times. When it suited him, he told the girl to “come and get them from his home” after class.

In innocence, Kalenga followed instructions and went to her teacher’s home. There she found him listening to music. After being asked to “take a seat,” Kalenga, was told she needed to go and get her test papers from another room. Unfortunately, she followed instructions again to gather her papers from the other room. Even though she admitted in court that she was uncomfortable and scared in her teacher’s home.

When Kalenga went to go into the other room she froze in her feet. When she opened the curtain (in place of a door) she found she was looking into a bedroom. That’s when she turned to go back but “Teacher” was standing in her way blocking her from passing as he began to tell Kalenga she was pretty and that he wanted to marry her.

Defining Sexual Assault

The US Department of Health and Human Services outlines the definition of sexual assault stating, “Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.”

Many girl-children, teens and young women do not know that sexual assault does include activity such as nonphysical verbal abuse as well.

A 2000 report on rape in neighboring South Africa by the Medical Research Council pointed to the seriousness of teacher-student rape and exploitation outlining, “Girls reported routine sexual harassment by teachers, as well as psychological coercion to engage in “dating relationships.” In some cases, girls acquiesced to sexual demands from teachers because of fears that they would be physically punished if they refused. In other cases, teachers abused their positions of authority by promising better grades or money in exchange for sex. In the worst cases, teachers operated within a climate of seeming entitlement to sexual favors from students. A medical research study found that among those South African rape victims who specified their relationship to the perpetrator, 37.7 percent said a schoolteacher or principal had raped them.”

Terrified, Kalenga asked her teacher what he was doing. Instead of an answer she was pushed on the bed. Before she knew it she went blank and tried to scream, but her assailant put his hands firmly over her mouth.

Like so many survivors of sexual assault, Kalenga was told, in the face of this crime, that she was not to tell anyone – or else. If she did she would be chased from school and her “Teacher” would lose his job.

Kalenga Contracts an STD

When she went home Kalenga told no one. Not even her Auntie who is her legal guardian. Alone with no one to turn to, she soon realized she was hurting and itching and beginning to show signs of disease. Alone and silent, she decided to go to a clinic, got examined and was diagnosed and given medicine.

Once there she still remained silent and told no one, but in a bout of courage and fear she went to tell “Teacher” of her condition and health treatment.

In response, he scolded her saying, “How come I am not getting sick myself?”.

The situation on its own was not getting any better.

The silent young girl did not know what to do or where to go. Finally, in an act of desperation she decided to tell the Deputy Headmaster of her school what had happened. To her surprise the Headmaster already knew the whole story.

He knew what had been going on because he had been a roommate, sharing a house with Kalenga’s “Teacher.”

It was then it was decided. Enough was enough. There must be an end to this.

Kalenga’s Performance Dwindles at School

As the trauma started sinking in, Kalenga’s performance in school started dwindling. This is a common occurrence for children who have been abused by authority figures at school.

Once a very good student at school, Kalenga started getting low marks. The children at school in Kalenga’s class, who began hearing about her struggle, started talking about Kalenga behind her back. Her friends bullied her. Some would even write notes to her telling her she was a “bad” girl. Others said she was lying. Others blamed her for spreading school rumors, saying that she was falsely accusing her teacher.

“It was really traumatizing for me,” said Kalenga in a recent interview for Women News Network. “My friends were bullying me and telling me that I was just making up this whole thing. That I just wanted to put the teacher in trouble. Many days I would go home crying,” said added.

Education for All

CAMFED, an international NGO which started in 1993, is dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women. Using a platform of “Education for all,” CAMFED has recently released the “Child Protection Policy” (updated April 2008) recognizing that, “girls are especially vulnerable to abuse and that they require special protection.”

Zambian school girl
All of Zambia’s children deserve safety in educational environments. Image: US Embassy, Zambia / Lubuto Library Project Opening

“Empowering girls is the foundation for enabling them to be less vulnerable to abuse of any kind. A key element of our programme policy is that girls develop the confidence to reduce their exposure to abusive situations,” states CAMFED in its policy talking points.

The responsibility for education leaders in Zambia to insure the safety of its students has finally been brought to the public in Kalenga’s case. Many times girls abused by an authority figure from their school, or by school mates, stop attending school all together after they have experienced their abuse. The hardest part is that assistance for their suffering goes unattended as they often remain silent.

Time to Tell

After facing her struggle alone, Kalenga tried to tell her Auntie what had happened but she couldn’t. It was then her headmaster put her to task and told her that if she didn’t tell immediately he would tell her aunt himself.

Scared, without knowing what would happen next, Kalenga went to a pay phone. She dialed her home number. Her aunt answered. When she tried to speak tears made Kalenga’s throat swell. The words just would not come.

On hearing this, Kalenga’s headmaster at school quickly picked up the phone and spoke to Kalenga’s “Auntie” himself urging her to listen to what her niece had to tell her as soon as she came home.

When Kalenga arrived home her “Auntie” was waiting pensively for her.

After hearing Kalenga’s story she said later, “I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t know what to do. The first thing that came to my mind was to confront the teacher at school.”

Why Do Most Teachers Never Confess to Rape?

As part of a Nov 2006 YWCA Zambia campaign, “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence,” a report outlined an alarming statistic. An average of eight cases of girl-rape per week was revealed coming into the YWCA centre in Lusaka for help.

Teacher-student abuse has now been found to be a hidden and significant contributor to this statistic.

A 2002 Human Rights Watch investigation in Zambia found that Zambian teachers all too frequently have placed certain girl-students in positions resulting in exploitation. This exploitation is dependent on non-disclosure by the perpetrators as well as the survivors of abuse.

“Sexual abuse and exploitation in school environments was all too frequent. Some of the perpetrators were teachers who prey on vulnerable girls, exchanging answers to tests or higher grades for sex. Most abuses by teachers are not reported, and few teachers are penalized. A more typical outcome is that the teacher is cautioned and possibly transferred.

In some cases, parents negotiate for the teacher to marry the girl. Advocates for girls’ education have tried to get stiffer penalties against teachers who abuse students, and to ensure that those found responsible are dismissed. However, the onus is on the girl’s parents, not the school, to report the case to the police so criminal charges can be made.

School administrators sometimes interfere with the process by transferring the teachers elsewhere, which makes it extremely difficult for the case to proceed,” said Human Rights Watch in their 2002 report, “Suffering in Silence: The Links between Human Rights Abuses and HIV Transmission to Girls in Zambia.”

Meeting with the Deputy Headmaster

The next morning, Aunt and niece decided to go school to make a formal report to the Headmaster. A meeting was called. The Headmaster, another senior teacher and Kalenga’s teacher, Edward Hakasenke, were present at the meeting with Kalenga and her aunt.

The Headmaster told Kalenga’s Aunt that he could not blame the girl for anything that happened as she was a minor. He reminded Kalenga’s teacher of a previous relationship he also had with another of his students. When the Edward Hakasenke was asked if he felt Kalenga was a “girlfriend,” he answered in the affirmative. The headmaster then asked him if he knew how old the girl was when the incident allegedly occurred and if he committed the rape. The teacher admitted that he thought the girl was 14 years old, but would not answer the last question.

Verifying in court “Teacher” did testify that, yes, he knew Kalenga. He said that she was his pupil. But he denied any sexual assault.

He testified that Kalenga had started spreading rumors that she was his girlfriend. Adding that on Valentines Day, the young girl followed him with a bunch of flowers along with some chocolate and a card. But, he tried to avoid her as he realized that the whole thing would get him in trouble. He said that the young girl requested to talk to him on several occasions but he had declined.

He also said that the girl wanted to have a relationship with him but he declined. However, on cross examination in court, Kalenga’s teacher admitted that Kalenga did not proposition him. He admitted that he called the girl his “girlfriend” because he thought there was a relationship.

A Guilty Verdict

On June 30, 2008 the High Court of Zambia released a verdict of guilty to Kalenga’s teacher, Edward Hakasenke.

In concluding remarks Judge Philip Musonda outlined the reasons he chose “guilty” in the court decision:

“A teacher has moral superiority over his pupils. A girl saying that she loved a teacher does not mean that she consented to sex, when she is below 16 years of age. This teacher manipulated the girl by deliberately forgetting her past examination papers in order to create an opportunity to sexually abuse her at his home. There can be no consent by a child under 16 years of age.

To characterize a (child’s) valentine card as consenting, is legally, morally and psychologically flawed. Such a person (who interprets a young girl this way) undermines section 138 of the (Zambian) penal code. It is contrary to the ethics of a teacher to sleep with school girls. It is psychologically wrong. A child under 16 is not cognitively developed enough to consent to sex.

When children are left at school a teacher becomes a parent. The standard of care, managed by a headmaster of a school, is one of a careful father toward his own children.

The chances of millions of girls being infected with a (HIV/AIDS) ‘death sentence’ by unscrupulous teachers and/or headmasters cannot go unabated. Diseases (in Zambia) such as HIV/AIDS, have no cure.”

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