Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a universal problem with grave life-long outcomes. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines CSA as “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that  he or she does not fully comprehend and is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violate the laws or social taboos of society (WHO, 2003). The term CSA includes a range of activities like “intercourse, attempted intercourse, oral-genital contact, fondling of genitals directly or through clothing, exhibitionism or exposing children to adult sexual activity or pornography, and the use of the child for prostitution or pornography (Putnam, 2003). In Kenya, the boys and girls in the public mixed day secondary schools fall in this category.


The issue of CSA is intricate and challenging to study. The estimates vary widely depending on the country under study, the definitions used, the type of CSA studied, the extent of coverage, and the quality of data (WHO, 2014; Krug, 2009; Bassani et al., 2009; Martin et al, 2013). However, sexual violence is seen to occur in all ages, in all socio-economic classes, and nearly in all countries with differences in the magnitude (Krug, 2002).


Worldwide, it is estimated that around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10) have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts (UNICEF 2014a). Boys are subject to sexual violence too, but data on this are lacking from most countries. Moreover, huge differences in the design and measures used in surveys make it difficult to accurately compare rates of child sexual abuse and exploitation in different countries.


A review of 58 prevalence studies, including eight systematic reviews and meta-analyses, (Andrews et al. 2004; UNICEF 2012a) found that, globally, child sexual abuse involving physical contact is reported by between 2 and 56 per cent of girls and 0.4 and 44 per cent of boys. Examples of reported rates of sexual exploitation include 7 per cent for girls and 6 per cent for boys in Kenya (UNICEF Kenya et al. 2012), 5.7 per cent and 7.4 per cent of girls in Ethiopia and Uganda respectively (Stavropoulos, 2006) and 6 per cent for both girls and boys in Sri Lanka (Miles, 2000). Higher rates overall have been found in some countries in Africa (12 per cent to 44 per cent of boys, 15 per cent to 53 per cent of girls) (Andersson and Ho-Foster 2008; Stavropoulos 2006; UNICEF et al. 2011) and lower rates overall in China (15 per cent of girls, 14 per cent of boys) (Ji et al. 2013).


Children are most likely to be sexually abused by a person known to them, usually an adult or older child who is a family member, and relative, family friend or in a relationship of trust or authority (Pinheiro, 2006). An adolescent’s own intimate partner (a boyfriend or girlfriend) is the most frequently mentioned perpetrator in both low and middle-income countries (LMICs), such as countries in Africa, as well as in high-income countries (HICs) (Barter et al. 2009; Reza et al. 2009). High rates of sexual violence in schools or on the way to school have been found in some LMICs (Pinheiro, 2006). Children living in alternative family, residential or foster care are


known to be vulnerable (Berelowitz et al. 2012) as are children involved in domestic labour, hazardous work and bonded or forced labour (Audu et al. 2009).


School related gender-based violence (SRGBV) includes explicit threats or acts of physical violence, bullying, verbal or sexual harassment, non-consensual touching, sexual coercion and assault, and rape. Corporal punishment and discipline in schools often manifest in gendered and discriminatory ways. Other implicit acts of SRGBV stem from everyday school practices that reinforce stereotyping and gender inequality, and encourage violent or unsafe environments. Both girls and boys can be victims or perpetrators of SRGBV, but to what extent and which forms differ. Evidence suggests girls are at greater risk of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation, while boys are more likely to experience frequent and severe physical violence. Boys are more commonly perpetrators of physical bullying, while girls are often more likely to use verbal or psychological forms of violence (Pinheiro, 2006).


Estimates from Plan International, based on the number of children affected by verbal bullying in schools, show 246 million boys and girls suffering school-related violence every year (Plan International, 2013). In some parts of France, 40% of students report being victims of cyber bullying (Blaya, 2013). In some parts of Zambia, 61% of school children reported being bullied in the previous month (Fleming and Jacobsen, 2010). And millions more suffer physical violence at school guised as discipline; in essence, over 50% of all children worldwide live in countries where they have no legal protection from corporal punishment (UNESCO, 2014b).


Nationally representative surveys and small-scale studies present a partial, but disturbing, picture. Much of the research to date has taken place in sub-Saharan Africa, driven by early concerns related to girls’ low participation in education, and the HIV and AIDS pandemic. Older


male students may take advantage of their position of power at school to abuse female students. In some parts of Cameroon, 30% of sexual violence experienced by schoolgirls was committed by male students (Devers et al. 2012). While teachers have a key role to play in addressing SRGBV, some are also perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse, often acting with impunity. A 2010 survey by the Ministry of National Education in Côte d’Ivoire found that 47% of teachers reported having elicited sexual relations with students (Dedy, 2010). In South Africa, a recent national survey found that 8% of secondary school girls had experienced severe sexual assault or rape in the previous year while at school (Burton and Leoschut, 2013).


Studies from other regions also reveal the extent of sexual violence in schools. A study in the Netherlands found 27% of students had been sexually harassed by school personnel (Mncube and Harber, 2013). In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that one in three 16–18 year olds have experienced unwanted sexual touching in schools (EWAN, 2015). Girls from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama regularly experience sexual harassment in schools and ‘sexual blackmail’ related to grades (UN Women/UNICEF/ÚNETE, 2014).

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