Among teachers in Malawi, ‘burning a payslip’ is getting sacked or jailed for having sex with a schoolgirl.
The press keeps splashing on these outlawed sexual affairs. Teacher accused of impregnating a Standard 7 Girl in Mchinji, forcing her to abort. Teacher rapes and impregnates a pupil. Four years for horny teacher. Teacher impregnates 14-year-old, nine years jail for teacher who impregnated a schoolgirl.
Such headlines bring into question the integrity of teachers luring girls into risky sex that fuels teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and Aids, unsafe abortions and school dropout rates.
Now, Malawi Girl Guides Association (Magga) is training teachers to safeguard girls’ rights to education in a project demanding Comprehensive Action for Adolescent Girls and Young Women in Mulanje, Machinga, Lilongwe, Thyolo and Chikwawa.
The initiative, funded by the Global Fund through ActionAid and Christian Aid, reminds teachers of their obligations and raises awareness of girls’ rights to reduce dropout rates, HIV and gender-based violence.
After discussing dos and don’ts, the teachers sign a code of conduct, committing to observe “a social distance” from pupils.
“This is a vital refresher,” says Webster Sakwata, human resource manager at Mulanje District Education Manager’s office. “Every job has dos and don’ts. Teachers are not supposed to engage in sexual relationships with pupils, who look up to them as their second parents.”
Last year, Sakwata handled four cases involving teachers sleeping with girls and one of them is serving seven years in jail.
Such cases are usually concealed or discontinued by the girls’ parents, defilers, head teachers, traditional leaders and the police. But Sakwata reiterated Minister of Education, Science and Technology Bright Msaka’s call to stop shielding libidinous teachers from dismissals.
Sakwata states: “Transferring wayward teachers to distant schools only shifts the problem. Currently, we swiftly report the cases to the police and the Teaching Service Commission interdicts the suspect until the court finds him innocent or guilty.
“The courts usually find the teacher without a case to answer when the girls are not below 18, but the commission takes him to task because he is not supposed to engage in any sexual affair with a pupil of any age.”
Speaking in Mzimba last year, Msaka sternly warned that he instantly sack teachers sleeping with pupils because sexual harassment fuels dropout rates, child marriages and teen pregnancy.
To Magga field officer Tamanda Mlumbe, acquainting teachers with laws and rules governing their work is central to creating a safe learning environment for girls and boys.
“We hope the teachers being trained will start relating with girls with professionalism. Magga is working closely with teachers, school committees and other stakeholders to ensure every girl learns,” she said in an interview at Chambe Primary School.
With 20.6 percent of boys and girls aged between 10 -24 years old living, Mulanje has the highest HIV rate among adolescents. This is fuelled by widespread poverty, low access to sexual and reproductive health services and information as well as harmful cultural practices.
Magga is empowering chiefs and initiation counsellors to review cultural practices that pose a threat to girl’s education. They include chinamwali, a rite of passage to adulthood in which “girls as young as eight are taught how to please a man in bed”.
“After the initiation rite, some go out to try out what they learn. This increases unintended pregnancies, early marriages and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV,” says Mlumbe.
Rebecca Chafulumira, a teacher at Mambala Primary School in Mulanje, reckons teacher-pupil sexual affairs illustrate schoolgirls’ susceptibility to predatory adults, including married men in their communities, due to widespread poverty, parents’ indifference and failure to appreciate the importance of education.
“Some girls persistently seduce old men, including teachers, in search of money for basics. Some are sent by their parents to get too close to teachers because they want a learned in-law. At times, the girl visits a bachelor’s home at awkward times,” she says.
But this could just be an excuse.
Chafulumira explained: “Flirtations do not make it right for a teacher to take girls to bed. The onus is on him to desist from unlawful conduct that puts the teaching profession into disrepute. To me, keeping a girl in school until she achieves her potential is the only way to help her beat poverty and become truly independent without exchanging her body with favours ,” she says.