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ONEYA: It’s time to permanently weed out sex pests from classrooms

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By FAITH ONEYA
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The classroom has sadly become a den of iniquities courtesy of errant teachers.

A story carried in the Daily Nation on March 14, 2019 indicates that 1,228 teachers have so far been sacked by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) for defiling minors.

One does not need much research or imagination to conclude that the number barely scratches the surface given the culture of silence and the taboos surrounding sex-related matters in Kenya.

It’s even sadder that we are not doing enough to help these children whose lives are permanently turned upside down by teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, stigma and mental trauma associated with the same.

I should know, having been taught by a sex pest once when I was six years old. He eventually left the school. In later years, I wished I had the means or capacity or audacity to report his misdeeds.

But I couldn’t. A lot of children are not equipped to.

This is one of the ways in which TSC and other education stakeholders are failing our children as most of the standards in place to deal with sex pests are reactive and not proactive. For example, why can’t the code of conduct of teachers towards students begin at the training level?

As a trained teacher, I don’t remember a single lesson on how to conduct myself around students. Learners could also benefit greatly if the sex education curriculum is fully implemented in school. Strangely, there has been some disgruntlement by lobby groups and some parents who call it inappropriate and unAfrican. As if teen pregnancies, STIs, trauma and stigma are African.

Given that teachers are often held in very high esteem, often taking the role of a parent in schools, it’s nearly impossible for children to accuse them of anything unless they are encouraged and empowered to do so.

The story behind the statistics gets grimmer because some of these teachers who are fired by TSC are hired at private schools that don’t have what it takes to vet them or choose not to.

Of what use is firing a teacher for preying on students if he or she is going to get employment at a different school?

If only their dismissal came with publicised names and faces so that they could carry a similar burden of shame as the children, they molested.

The Daily Nation article mentions that some cultures engender early marriages, while ignorant parents accept hush money from teachers and other school workers.

But something more is making this sexual perversion fester.

TSC’s actions reflect the society’s “kindness” towards sex pests as the punishment meted out to the perpetrators is often incommensurate with the damage their actions cause to their victims. Our attitude towards the perpetrators makes an otherwise heinous crime seem like a petty one.

I once penned an article in 2018 highlighting my concerns about a tawdry headline in a local newspaper implying that it’s possible for a teacher and a high school student to have a “love relationship”.

The story stated that there was a wave of teacher-student “love relationships” that had hit a certain county and that the teachers had either been transferred or suspended because of it.

I disagreed profusely with the use of the word love relationship or affair when describing teacher-student relationships as it sanitised the crime and implied that consent was involved.

One of the responses to my pieces was even more disturbing but evidenced the casual attitude we have towards sex pests:

“People fall in love regardless of age or status. If the two consented, it’s a ‘love relationship’. Yeah we cannot blame the teachers, what if they (students) are seducing these teachers … it’s all wrong but happening.”

What I saw and still see is power play. And love is simply the power broker here. Consent simply does not exist in such a power relationship but our attitude sometimes suggests that it does.

Time is ripe to permanently weed out sex pests from classrooms.

Education Cabinet Secretary nominee Prof George Magoha said that if appointed, he will deal ruthlessly with people who prey on children. Whatever form or shape this “ruthlessness” takes, my prayer is that it will end with the sex pests being arrested, charged and imprisoned. And I pray the ruthlessness also involves permanent removal from the classroom.





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