Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Perspectives on Sexual Abuse of School Children in Basic and Secondary Schools in Ghana

Academic journal article African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies : AJCJS

Perspectives on Sexual Abuse of School Children in Basic and Secondary Schools in Ghana

Article excerpt


Sexual abuse is a hidden human rights violation that has existed with human beings for a long time. It came very much to the open in the 1970s, when feminist activists sought ways to address the unwanted sexual attention that women faced in the workforce (Lee, Croninger, Linn and Chen, 1996). Nan Stein, defined sexual harassment in schools and universities as unwanted and unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that interferes with the right to receive an equal educational opportunity (Stein, 1995). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) had a definition of sexual harassment that elaborated two main types: (i) the more coercive quid pro quo (i.e., pressure for sexual favors as a condition for employment) and (ii) the more common hostile environment, which could be verbal or physical in nature. According to the World Head organization (WHO), for many young women, the most common place where sexual coercion and harassment are experienced is in schools (WHO, 2002).

Most studies on sexual abuse in schools had focused on higher institutions (Kathree, 1992; Gaidzanwa, 1993; AAUW, 1993; and Stein, 1999). Some early work on girls' low educational participation and achievement correctly noted this phenomenon (Gordon, 1993; Odaja and Heneveld, 1995). People are increasingly realizing that the closed nature of school environment and the general absence of accountability systems mean that children could be at great risks in schools (Leach and Machakanja, 2000). Studies on sexual violation against school children are still limited, especially in Africa; the few existing are mainly in East and Southern Africa (Human Rights Watch, 2001; Niehaus, 2000; Jewkes et al, 2002). These and others have expanded our understanding of the issues of sexual abuse in educational settings.

Substantial improvements have been made in recent years with regard to the promotion and protection of the rights of children through child related legislation in many countries, especially in Ghana which was the first country to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in February, 1990. It strengthened the constitutional and legal framework by adopting provisions relating to children's rights in the 1992 Constitution and the Children's Act (Act 560). But there still remains a wide gap between enactment, on the one hand, and compliance, enforcement and awareness, on the other. For example, a national study on violence against women and children in Ghana shows a prevalence of sexual abuse of children in both rural and urban areas (Coker-Appiah and Cusack, 1999).

There is lack of reliable information on the scale of sexual abuse of children in the country, due partly to the sensitivity of the issue. Without reliable information, government officials have not been challenged to acknowledge and deal decisively with the cases. This is an exploratory, preliminary inquiry on sexual abuse of school children in Ghana from the perspectives of the school actors that hopefully will generate public debate and actions. The work by Valerie Lee and others titled The Culture of Sexual Harassment in Secondary Schools, especially the theoretical explanations of sexual harassment, very much influenced this study.

Theoretical Explanations for Sexual Abuse

Underlying much of the discussion of sexual abuse (its causes and responses to it) are five main theoretical formulations: biological, developmental, pathological, abuse of power, and cultural (Lee, et al, 1996). The biological perspective is based on physical differences between the sexes. Such comments as "men will be men" and "boys will be boys" come from this understanding. The developmental conceptualization assumes that people learn to communicate feelings through social interactions. Young people have difficulty communicating feelings related to sexual attraction. The inability to express such feelings in socially appropriate ways leads to (wittingly or unwittingly) engaging in harassing behaviors. …

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