|Preliminary Investigation of the Abuse of Girls in Zimbabwean Junior Secondary Schools - Education Research Paper No. 39 (DFID, 2000, 100 p.)|
|3. THE FINDINGS|
37 parents and guardians of girls in the three mixed schools were interviewed. One mother interviewed from each school talked of an older daughter who had become pregnant while at school and dropped out.
The parents and guardians, like the teachers, thought that on the whole girls had more problems to contend with at school than boys, in particular the risk of pregnancy. Girls had to bear the consequences of this while boys escaped from their responsibility. Only six parents thought that boys had an equal share of problems (drinking, drugs, high unemployment, thieving, peer pressure to become 'wild'). Most parents also thought that girls were more affected by family circumstances: parents squabbling and using bad language to each other; loose morals among parents, with mothers perhaps bringing boyfriends home or fathers girlfriends; break up of the family; lack of parental control; harsher treatment of girls than boys, especially from fathers, and being shouted at more. Parents' higher expectations of girls' behaviour meant that they got punished more when they failed to live up to these and fathers' preference for boys' education also demoralised girls. Excessive domestic work for girls prevented them from concentrating on their studies, while boys got off lightly.
At the same time as sympathising with girls, however, the majority of parents/guardians portrayed girls as weak in character, unable to resist temptations and excessively influenced by their peers and what they saw on TV and in films. They did not pay attention to their parents or respect them sufficiently. In particular, they expressed concern about the materialistic culture which surrounds young people; girls' desire for money and luxury items combined with poverty drives them into sexual relationships. Peer pressure encourages them to have affairs so as to impress others; they think they are adults. Girls were also considered deceitful because they may pretend to their parents that they are going to school but in reality they are going elsewhere to meet a boy.
Not surprisingly, given this perception of girls as weak and confused, many parents/guardians, like the teachers, the boys and the girls themselves, saw girls as largely to blame for their own problems. A third of the sample thought the girl should solely be to blame if she got pregnant, and some also thought she should be severely punished. They were surprisingly harsh in their views on this. Suggested punishments included: being 'made to suffer', beaten, sent to the man's home, sent to stay with relatives in the rural areas, or even sent to jail. One said 'she should be beaten but not killed'. One of the women who had had a pregnant daughter said she had chased her daughter from the home when she had discovered she was pregnant but fortunately the man had married her. Many did however think that the girl should be allowed to return to school after the baby was born, although some said that most fathers would refuse to allow this and others that she would be a bad influence on the other girls. One mother said she would not pay her daughter's fees in such circumstances.
In light of their harsh views, it is perhaps not surprising that parents/guardians admitted that girls did not talk openly to them about their problems or about incidents with men or boys. Less than a third said that the girl had spoken to them about a problem of harassment or bullying. Many wished the girls would confide in them but acknowledged that they feared being reprimanded. Incidents that they were told about included: two girls being beaten by boys because they had turned down a boy's proposal (in one case the aunt went to the police and the boy was fined 200 Z$ - £4), girls being harassed or threatened by boys or men on their way to and from school, a girl claiming that another girl had stolen her book (the parents decided not to pursue it for fear of the accused girl bullying their daughter). Several parents said that they saw their daughters being followed and whistled at by boys, which worried them. In one case the mother said her daughter had received two letters from married men who attended their local church; one letter contained a 50 Z$ note. She told her daughter to return the letter and the money to the man.
At the same time, parents or guardians made little attempt to talk to the girls about their problems or about sexual matters, in part they said for fear of encouraging them. Some thought the high incidence of teenage pregnancy was the result of too much discussion about sex (at school and in the media) and the free availability of condoms. They disapproved of the teaching of health education at school because it included sex education. This is a particularly unfortunate attitude given the high prevalence of HIV infection among adolescent girls.
There was also little acknowledgement of their own parental responsibility (and their failure) in addressing girls' problems. Instead, they expected the school to do this, to teach pupils about morality and to enforce moral behaviour. Most thought that it was failing in this; only School B received some praise. Some parents had no idea what the school might be doing, others thought that teachers saw what was happening every day but did nothing. Clearly they had a poor opinion of teachers: some thought they were the main problem: many were drunk or divorced, too many were very young, and female teachers, who should be talking more to girls, were too busy fighting over boyfriends themselves! In some cases they may be jealous of the girls. Some female teachers may themselves have experienced early pregnancy and therefore have nothing exemplary to teach the girls.
Very few parents/guardians knew of specific cases of teachers having affairs with schoolgirls. They themselves did not address the subject, as we were convinced their girls did not engage in such behaviour. Several said girls chose to hide this information from parents either to protect each other or for fear of being reprimanded. However, a few said they had heard rumours of both single and married teachers having affairs with schoolgirls, either in the girl's school or elsewhere, and of teachers threatening girls if they did not have sex with them. They confirmed what some teachers had said, that parents may not wish to report the case because if the teacher is dismissed he will not be able to support the girl; they therefore prefer to make a family settlement.
The majority thought schools did not do enough to protect girls and suggested improvements. Some thought girls should not be allowed out of the school yard and the register should be taken several times a day. The school should be stricter with both teachers and pupils, and there should be better communication between parents and teachers. Older women in the community should be invited to talk to girls. Several parents would like girls to be taught only by female teachers or in single sex schools or boarding schools. One mother pointed out that three girls had already dropped out of her daughter's form this year as a result of pregnancy. Many blamed the Ministry for transferring teachers to locations where they could not take their families, which encourages them to form sexual liaisons with girls. Two (one an uncle) thought girls should be checked regularly in the clinic to see 'that they are not sexually active', i.e. that they are still virgins. The uncle suggested that if found to be pregnant, a girl should be shamed in front of the whole school. Two parents would like pupils to be beaten more.
The parents themselves were reluctant to complain (only 11 had done so at some time on matters such as a child being excessively beaten by a teacher). They thought the school did not care and nothing would be done. They also did not want the child to be victimised. Many said they would like to complain about a wide range of issues such as teacher absenteeism and laziness, e.g. teaching lessons of only 10 minutes or so, lack of teachers in some subjects, lack of discipline and pupils coming home late. They would also like to be invited to the school and to be more involved in the education of their children. It is interesting to note in this respect that the heads complained that very few parents attend meetings when they are held. However, many parents were keen to be interviewed by the researcher; the impression gained was that parents are talked at by heads in meetings and reprimanded not consulted. If asked to genuinely participate, they might be more willing.