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Tuesday, 27 March, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Sex threat to SA students
South African classroom
Schoolgirls are often afraid to speak out
By Carolyn Dempster in Johannesburg

Sexual abuse of schoolgirls in South Africa is widespread, according to a report released on Tuesday.


Because I'm a girl I can't fight them

Sex abuse victim
The Human Rights Watch report says that school authorities are often guilty of turning a blind eye to the abuse.

Violence against women in South African society is widely recognised to have reached one of the highest levels in the world.

Many schoolgirls have come to accept that harassment, sexual violence and rape is an inevitable part of going to school.

Survival strategy

According to the report South African schoolgirls quickly learn that submission and silence is the most effective form of survival.

"I must forgive my attackers," said one 17-year-old girl after an attempted gang rape.

"There is no choice. I don't want to forgive them. But because I'm a girl I can't fight them."

Her attackers were suspended from school for three days.

Now they are all back together in class and says the girl: "Every time I see them makes me feel like vomiting."

Intimidation

Human Rights Watch found that fear pervades school playgrounds. And the effect of the sexual violence is profound.
Kader Asmal
Education Minister Kader Asmal is aware of the sexual abuse in schools

Girls who are victims of sexual violence are scared of speaking out.

Those who do are met with attitudes ranging from indifference to disbelief and outright hostility.

Some girls switch schools, stay away from classes, or simply drop out because they cannot return to the scene of their attack. The educational impact is devastating.

Lack of policy

The Human Rights Watch researchers also found that there is no national policy in place in South African schools to combat sexual abuse.

They recommend that the government adopt a national plan of action, issue guidelines to schools on procedures to deal with sexual violence and adopt methods to prevent such behaviour, as well as protect girls.

South Africa's Education Minister Professor Kader Asmal is currently on a state trip to Cuba with President Thabo Mbeki, so he has not yet commented on the report.

But he is well aware of the problems of sexual violence in schools.

Last year he warned male teachers that it was against the law to demand sex from learners, not to mention the potential threat of spreading HIV and Aids.

A Medical Research Council survey found that in 37% of rape cases where the rape survivor could identify her attacker, the perpetrator was either a schoolteacher or school principal.

One of the hottest current topics of debate in South Africa among teachers, pupils and parents is the popular weekly television series Yizo, Yizo, which depicts life in a South African school with brutal honesty, including the kind of sexual violence the report has highlighted.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | Africa
Aids threat to SA education
27 Nov 00 | Africa
SA: Standing up to rapists
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