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Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School

Featured Judicial Decision: Addressing Sexual Violence Against Girls in School in Zambia

Guest Comment by Matrine Chuulu, Regional Coordinator of Women in the Law in Southern Africa (WLSA)

People v Collins Chipikili, Subordinate Court of the First Class for the Lusaka District, Zambia, July 22, 2010 (For a summary and link to the full-text decision of the Subordinate Court, please click here. For more information about the work of the Avon Global Center and WLSA on the issue of sexual violence in Zambian schools, please click here.).

It was the first day in a new school for ten-year-old R.M. As she was taking a placement exam, the teacher who was administering the exam put his arms around her from behind and began fondling her breasts. R.M. moved to another seat and continued writing the exam. "When I was finished writing," she later explained, "he lifted me and told me that I should help him, but I managed to run to the principal's office." The State prosecuted the 30-year-old teacher, and on July 22, 2011, a woman Resident Magistrate convicted him of indecent assault. On April 27, 2011, a woman High Court judge sentenced the teacher to fifteen years imprisonment.

The Case highlights once again the plight of young girls in Zambian schools. The Judgment will go a long way in ensuring that Teachers do not molest pupils who are supposed to be in their care while at school. The sexual abuse of girls is so alarming and widespread that the Courts are supposed to send a zero tolerance message for these unwarranted attacks which seem to be committed with impunity by the Teachers who should be in the forefront in the protection of these girls.

The abuse of girls in school has been going on for a very long time. The cases that get to be reported are just a tip of the iceberg the problem is much more serious than it appears. There is a lot more that goes on behind the backs of parents, guardians and some well meaning teachers. The victim in this case is 20 years younger than the perpetrator, and she was writing an entrance examination of which she was writing with fear as the Teacher advanced, it is not very clear whether she passed the exam. There is absolutely no justification for teachers to be on rampage sexually abusing school children who are indirectly their own. Clearly the Teacher was in breach of his duty to take care of the pupil who he was after all supervising on behalf of the schools and the government. Indeed the duty of a school teacher, according to authors Charles Worth and Perley “has been said to be to take care of his pupil as a reasonably careful father would take care of the children of the family.”

In spite of the work that has been carried out by organizations concerned with this vice, there is a lot more sensitization that needs to be done in schools so that victims report to school authorities like the principals/head teachers and the police. In this case the victim did not disclose what had happened to her in spite of running to the principal’s office. Equally when the child reached home she narrated what had happened to her to her sister who told their mother. It was only after her mother inquired from her after being told by the sister that the victim narrated what had transpired at school to her mother. This aspect could be a reflection of the child’s upbringing or she did not know that what happened to her was criminal and a serious offense which needed to be reported to the police.

Sexual abuse of girls in schools has become very prevalent in Zambia, but the work that is being done to sensitize school children about abuse in general and sexual abuse in particular is bearing positive results in increasing reporting by victims for the law to take its course. However a lot of work still remains to protect would-be victims.