Breaking the Silence: Sexual Coercion and Abuse in Post-Conflict Education

Sophie Bray-Watkins

Forced Migration Review, Issue 60, March 2019


Conflict exacerbates the already poor state of education in many war-affected countries, and ensuring children’s safety in educational contexts continues to be difficult. This article highlights the ‘hidden’ problem of sexual abuse of children by teaching staff, and outlines recommendations for ‘breaking the silence’. A 2015 UNICEF survey in Liberia found that 86 percent of children said “sex for grades” was their biggest concern. Perpetrators can act with near impunity in places that lack adequate community and government protection systems. The article lists numerous contributing and exacerbating factors including lack of investment in schools and teacher training, poor school governance, weak oversight mechanisms, unqualified or poorly paid teachers, and normalization of violence and corruption. The authors also highlight the impact on children such as: poor attendance and dropping out of school despite strong motivation to get an education; psychological consequences; STIs; pregnancies; and social stigmatization. The author recommends: emphasizing safety first; strengthening accountability so that perpetrators can no longer act with impunity; establishing child-friendly systems to report demands for sexual favors or payment; and instituting codes of conduct and communicating them clearly to teachers and students.