Addressing the problem of sexual relations between teachers and students in Kenyan schools

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1759/Michael Kamber
Students attend class at Ayany Primary School, a free government primary school on the outskirts of Kibera, a slum area of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Nairobi, August 13, 2010 — Friday evening and I was flicking through the Daily Nation catching up on the post-mortem of the recent (August 4) Constitutional Referendum, when photographs of dancing and singing Somali girls from Mandera Arid Zone Primary School and a Kenyan boy from Friends School Kamusinga playing a recorder caught my attention.

It was a report on the Schools and Colleges National Music Festival at Masinde Muliro University, Kakmega. Aha, I thought – a good news story! But by the fourth paragraph of the article, my mood darkened as I read the following – “Another poem, Slow down my teacher, is also causing ripples as it addresses teacher-student sexual relationships”.

I felt that this small reference to this big problem, as well as the inclusion of the subject matter by students in a national choral festival suggested both the enormity of the issue but also its normalisation.

This titbit of information raised both my hackles and my curiosity to understand more, especially as I am here in Nairobi to support both the Kenya and Somalia humanitarian communities with the integration of gender and gender-based violence (GBV) response and prevention in the analysis and associated projects in the Kenya EHRP/Somalia CAP 2011.

A bit of digging and I discovered that, at the end of April 2010, concerned “with the increasing cases of violence (physical, psychological and sexual) against pupils/students”, the Kenyan Teachers Service Commission (TSC) issued a Circular on the ‘Protection of Pupils/Students from Sexual Abuse’ (see

According to media reports at the time, complaints of sexual abuse brought against a teacher were previously handled by simply transferring the teacher to another school. Also, school outings provided “predatory” teachers with an opportunity to take advantage of students. To respond to this latter issue, the Circular directs all Head Teachers to ensure that, during activities outside the school, at least one teacher of the same sex accompany students.

The Circular defines sexual abuse by a teacher as including sexual intercourse, sexual assault, touching, use of suggestive language or gestures, any form of inducement, threats or violence to force students to give in to demands for sex and exposing students to pornographic material or any form of flirtation with or without the student’s consent. The Circular states it will be prohibited for any student to visit a teacher’s house for whatever reason.

Where abuse is suspected inside or outside the school, a teacher is mandated to report it within 24 hours. A teacher, a TSC employee or agent who fails to report a case or suspicion of sexual abuse against a student will be disciplined and a teacher who facilitates a cover-up of abuse shall be considered an accomplice and face disciplinary action.

While the Circular does not specify what action would be taken, the Minister for Gender and Children’s Affairs, Esther Murugi said that the Children’s Act and the Sexual Offences Act are “more than enough to deal with any errant Kenyan bent on abusing a child”.
So, looking forward, the question now is how partners in education in emergencies in Kenya can support the effective implementation of the terms of the Circular?

Reviewing the Kenya Education Sector Working Group’s needs assessment for the 2010 Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan, I noted the following:

• There is no sex- or age-disaggregation of learners

• There is no sex-disaggregation of teachers and other education personnel

• There is no indication that a gender analysis has been undertaken for Early Childhood Development, primary, secondary or vocational training levels, which would give practitioners an understanding of who is attending school, who is not or is dropping out and why, who – girls and/or boys – are engaged in casual and domestic labour activities that keeps them from attending school, etc.

• Given the widely reported increased levels of sexual violence in the aftermath of the post-election (2008) violence and in increasingly crowded refugee camps, the conditions are right for continued or increased sexual abuse in schools. However, there is no indication in the Education Sector Working Group’s analysis or associated projects that sexual abuse in learning environments has been considered.

Thus, I would strongly suggest that the Kenya Education Sector Working Group include measures to prevent and respond to sexual abuse in schools in which they are working in line with the provisions of the April 2010 Circular. Support on this is available in the Pocket Guide on Gender Equality in and through Education in Emergencies (July 2010, S.2.2, pgs. 39 – 42).

Kenya is not alone in experiencing this vile problem in its schools. I would encourage readers to contribute their own experiences of the nature and extent of the issue in their location and how it is being addressed.

- Siobhàn Foran, GenCap Advisor with the Global Clusters

Related link: Ask the Gender Expert

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