The unchallenged occurrence of sexual violence in schools is highly disruptive to girls' education. Left unchecked, sexual violence in schools has a negative impact on the educational and emotional needs of girls and acts as a barrier to attaining education. A school environment where sexual violence is tolerated is one that compromises the right of girls to enjoy education on equal terms with boys. After experiencing violence at school, girls reported losing interest in school, changing schools, or leaving school entirely. The associated health risks posed by sexual violence generally, including unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, also have implications for girls' educational access.
In many instances, girls who have been victims of sexual violence at school leave school for some time, change schools, or even quit attending school entirely, fearing continued abuse from those who have raped, sexually assaulted, or harassed them. Usually teachers and students who are accused of sexual violence remain at school while it is girls who leave. WH, a thirteen-year-old
Girls who must temporarily leave school or change schools to avoid abusive classmates or teachers experience disruptions in their education. Girls reported that missing school had a negative impact on their school performance. One student explained: "I didn't go back to school for one month [after being sexually abused by her teacher], I just wanted to be alone."173 Many victims of sexual violence at school miss some school trying to cope with what has happened to them and find they cannot catch up with their course work.
Girls who are victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence often struggle with physical and emotional trauma that leaves them unable to do their school work or view school as a priority.174 Girls indicated to Human Rights Watch that the sexual violence they experienced at school had a negative impact on their school performance and their desire to go to school. Human Rights Watch repeatedly encountered girls who said that they could no longer focus on their work or view school as important. One fifteen-year-old student described her school performance after she was raped by her teacher as follows: "I did badly in school. First term [before the rape] I passed with flying colors, but second term I did badly. I got conditional transfer. Third and fourth term were also bad."175
The trauma of sexual abuse can affect a child's ability to concentrate.178 A social worker treating one child told Human Rights Watch how the child's school performance suffered after the rape, "She was a brilliant student, also an athlete. She failed matric. She dropped all athletic activities."179
As a result of sexual abuse, girls often have negative and confused thoughts and beliefs about themselves. MC, who was fifteen when she was raped by her teacher early in 1999, told Human Rights Watch: "After he raped me, I felt ugly. I didn't know what to do, like it was all my fault...I couldn't sleep."180 FH observed that her daughter changed after she was raped.
A counselor described the emotional state of a sixteen-year-old student who phoned Childline in March 2000 to report that her teacher had raped her. The girl had said that she believed she was raped for being a bad student. The counselor noted that the girl "sounded expressionless when she related her rape. Since then she cannot concentrate, sleep properly, etc. She reflects feelings of guilt about...everything being her fault." 182
After an abusive encounter, children experience anger, depression, and feelings of isolation, ambivalence, anxiety, guilt, and hopelessness.185 PC's depression colored her view of the world and education generally, she told Human Rights Watch: "I don't want to be there [at school]. I just don't care anymore. I don't have motivation anymore. I thought about changing schools, but why? If it can happen here it can happen any place and the response will be the same. I didn't want to go back to any school."186
Unwanted pregnancy is a possible complication that may result from rape in any context. RH, a standard nine student from Impendle in KwaZulu-Natal, called Childline in 1999, for assistance. She had become pregnant after her teacher coerced her into a sexual relationship and has had to leave school as a consequence.
RH's unwanted pregnancy meant the end of her education.
DM remained under the impression that "it is a rule of the school that pregnant girls cannot attend." While DM had been unaware of her rights, "I was having no choice in the matter, if they would have let me I'd have stayed." She did perceive her treatment as unfair. She complained, "boys who make girls pregnant aren't asked to leave school."193
NS, who was asked to leave school because of her pregnancy, also thought she had no right to remain in school-that it was public policy for pregnant students to leave school:
Some girls were uncertain as to whether they would continue their studies or be allowed to return to their former schools: "I don't know if I'll continue my studies, I'm thinking about whether to continue and do matric."195 Most girls expressed an intention and desire to return to school; a few expressed apprehensions about returning to their old schools for fear of ridicule, while others were not sure they would be wanted. One girl explained: "I've heard of so many girls who haven't been allowed back. I'm scared. I think I have a 50-50 chance of being accepted back."196
Compounding the high rate of sexual violence against girls in South Africa is the country's rapidly accelerating rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Rape and other forms of sexual violence place girls at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including the HIV/AIDS virus. HIV/AIDS-associated illnesses are taking a toll on the education system and disrupt education for all students, but especially girls.
166 Wolpe, Gender Equity in Education, p. 219.
167 Human Rights Watch interview with Shamona Reddy, social worker, Johannesburg Reception Assessment and Referral Center, March 23, 2000.
168 Human Rights Watch interview with WH, age thirteen, Johannesburg, March 15, 2000.
170 Andy Duffy, "No Tears for Gang Raped Schoolgirl," Mail and Guardian, November 19, 1997.
172 Human Rights Watch interview with Andrea Engelbrecht, Childline, Durban, March 28, 2000.
173 Human Rights Watch interview with PC, age fifteen, Johannesburg, March 18, 2000.
174 For a discussion on the educational, emotional, and behavioral impact of sexual harassment in primary and secondary schools, consult Nan Stein, Classrooms and Courtrooms: Facing Sexual Harassment in K-12 Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1999).
175 Human Rights Watch interview with MC, age fifteen, Johannesburg, March 18, 2000. MC explained that "conditional transfer" means she failed, but that the school decided to pass her anyway.
176 Human Rights Watch interview with MC, age fifteen, Johannesburg, March 18, 2000.
177 Human Rights Watch interview with MB, age seventeen, April 5, 2000.
178 See "The Impact: Educational, Emotional, Behavioral," in Stein, Classrooms and Courtrooms, and sources cited therein.
179 Human Rights Watch interview with Mallory Issacs, Childline, Cape Town, April 14, 2000.
180 Human Rights Watch interview with MC, age fifteen, March 18, 2000.
181 Human Rights Watch interview with WH's mother, March 15, 2000.
182 Childline call record, March, 2000.
183 See "The Impact: Educational, Emotional, Behavioral" in Stein, Classrooms and Courtrooms, and sources cited therein.
184 Childline call report, June 1998.
185 See, generally, Tinka Labuschagne, A Guide to the Effective Management of Child Sexual Abuse, (Johannesburg: Johannesburg Community Chest, 1998).
186 Human Rights Watch interview with PC, age fifteen, March 18, 2000.
187 Childline case record, April 1999.
188 Prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination are contained in Section 8 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000. The South African constitution provides: "The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including...pregnancy." Section 9 (3) of the Constitution of South Africa Act 108 of 1996.
189 Human Rights Watch interview with Ruta van Niekerk, Principal Hospitaalskool, Pretoria, March 20, 2000. See also, Nokuthula Masuku, "Pregnant Schoolgirls Must Go," in Agenda, no. 37, 1998, p. 37-38; FAWE, Girls Education: The Trap of Adolescent Pregnancy (Nairobi: Forum for African Women Educationalists, undated); Connie Selebogo, "The Rights of the Pregnant Learner," The Teacher (Mail and Guardian), July 26, 2000. In 1999, 17,000 babies were born to South African mothers aged sixteen and younger.
190 When we interviewed the girls they were attending a special school for pregnant girls in Pretoria affiliated with a hospital. It should be noted that one condition of the interviews with students was that we not inquire as to how they became pregnant or the fathers of their children. Therefore, Human Rights Watch does not represent that any of the student pregnancies were unwanted nor do we suggest that the pregnancies are the result of school-based rape.
191 Human Rights Watch interview with NS, age seventeen, Pretoria, March 20, 2000.
192 Human Rights Watch interview with DM, age sixteen, Pretoria, March 20, 2000.
193 Human Rights Watch interview with DM, age sixteen, Pretoria, March 20, 2000.
194 Human Rights Watch interview with NS, age seventeen, Pretoria, March 20, 2000.
195 Human Rights Watch interview with ML, age seventeen, Pretoria, March 20, 2000.
196 Human Rights Watch interview with RG, age seventeen, Pretoria, March 20, 2000.
197 UNAIDS brings together seven U.N. agencies to advocate for global action on HIV/AIDS. Represented agencies include the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank.
198 Lawrence K. Altman, "U.N. Warning AIDS Imperils Africa's Youth," New York Times, June 28, 2000.
199 Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic (Geneva, UNAIDS, June 2000). See also Altman, "AIDS Imperils Africa's Youth," New York Times; UNAIDS/WHO Working Group on Global HIV/AIDS and STI Surveillance, South Africa: Epidemiological Fact Sheet on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (Geneva, World Health Organization, 2000); HIV Insite, South Africa: Context of the Epidemic, available at http://hivinsite.ucsf.edu/international/africa/ (accessed at February 13,2001).
200 Rachel Jewkes, The HIV/AIDS Emergency: Department of Education Guidelines for Educators (Pretoria: Department of Education, 2000), p. 6. Insurance companies in South Africa have launched "rape survivor" polices. For twenty-five rands per month women, children, and men can insure themselves for up to R.5,000 for rape. Typically policies cover medical and psychiatric treatment for the survivor, including the provision of anti-retroviral drug regimens to prevent HIV transmission. Lisa Vetten, "Paper Promises, Protest and Petitions: South African State and Civil Society Responses to Violence Against Women," in Yoon Jung Park, Joanne Fedler, and Zubeda Dangor (eds.), Reclaiming Women's Spaces (Johannesburg: Nisaa Institute for Women's Development, 2000), p. 108.
201 The AIDS Law Project and Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre report that violence against women, including domestic violence and rape, is strongly linked to a woman's exposure to sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS. Women who have little control in sexual interactions are those most at risk of contracting the virus from non-consensual or unprotected sexual intercourse. Corresponding with biological vulnerability is the fact that women have fewer contraceptive choices, unequal health care access, and women are far more likely to be coerced into sex or raped. Girls are more vulnerable. Betsi Pendry, "The Links Between Gender Violence and HIV/AIDS," in Agenda, no. 39, 1998, pp. 30-33.
202 UNAIDS, Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic p. 11.
203 Ibid., p. 125.
204 The epidemic is also decreasing family income, reducing the money available for school fees, and increasing the pressure on children to drop out of school. It is also adding to the number of children who are growing up without the support of parents, which also may affect a child's ability to stay in school. See Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic (Geneva, UNAIDS, June 2000).