​​Sexual abuse and violence are serious problems that transcend racial, economic, social and regional lines. Violence is frequently directed toward females and youth, who lack the economic and social status to resist it.  Adolescents and young women in particular may experience abuse in the form of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault and sexual exploitation. Accurately estimating the prevalence of sexual abuse and violence in the developing world is difficult due to limited amount of research done on the subject, and the fact that cultural acceptance prevents it from being reported.

Violence against women is a widespread problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. Surveys conducted reveal that 46% of Uganda women, 60% of Tanzania women, 42% of Kenyan Women and 40% of Zambian women report regular physical abuse. Studies have shown that children who witness violence, particularly within an abusive household, may experience many of the same emotional and behavioral problems that physically abused children experience such as depression, aggression, physical health complaints and poor school performance.

Worldwide 40-47% of sexual assaults are perpetrated against girls age 15 or younger, most often by a male relative, neighbors or a male teacher.  Young girls frequently report that their early sexual experience were coerced often due to lack of economic power or the need to be approved to pass from one grade to the next in school. Young women are vulnerable to coercion into sexual relationship with older men, “sugar daddies”, who take advantage of their lack of economic resources and promise to help pay for expenses, such as, school fees in exchange for sex. In South Africa 30% of girls reported that the first sexual encounters were forced, and in rural Malawi, 55% of adolescent girls surveyed reported that they were often forced to have sex. In Kenya, 50% of adolescent girls admit receiving gifts when engaged in sex, and in Uganda 22% of primary school children anticipate receiving a gift or money in exchange for sex.

An effective school system requires clear policies and strict laws that ensure children a safe and secure school environment without sexual assault and harassment by teachers and older classmates.  The policies must be well known and accepted by everyone, including school children, and effectively enforced by the community and PTA.

Policies may be in place in many countries, but the threat of social stigma often prevents young women from speaking out about rape and abuse, and the laws are commonly not enforced.

All Anglophone countries in Africa have enacted laws which directly address sexual offence against minors. The age at which young people are protected by rape laws varies in these countries from under 13 years in Nigeria to under 16 years in Zimbabwe.

Workshops (one for teachers and one for pupils) were the final stage of the research on “The Abuse of girls in Zimbabwean Junior Secondary Schools.” The workshop gave the following recommendations for strategic actions:
  • The key to addressing the issue is breaking the silence at all levels, among girls, teachers, school heads, parents and Ministry officials , open a dialogue, information sharing and co-operation.
  • Girls can support each other and act as a group, refuse to see a teacher alone, move around the school and walk home together with other girls. Report cases, as a group. Make clear to the teachers that they are aware of the code of conduct of teacher behavior and that misconduct is a punishable offence.
  • Teachers can create a more friendly and supportive environment, avoid verbal abuse and act as positive role models for both boys and girls at all times. Teachers can also take the schools Guidance and Counseling lessons more seriously, make them more participatory, encourage girls to speak about difficult issues, and using drama, drawings and writing to include everyone.
  • School management can change the school culture of violence by enforcing effective disciplinary measures against teachers and pupils who indulge in abusive behavior. Provide a forum for pupils especially girls to talk about issues of abuse in a non-threatening environment possibly with individuals outside the school. Teach pupils greater self esteem and establish an effective pupil representation system (student council). School management can ensure that Guidance and Counseling is taught only by qualified, trained teachers. Ensure that teachers know that they will be reported if they transgress the regulations and that all rules are enforced regarding pupil behavior. Ensure that parents know what the school regulations are and involve parents in the formulation of the school policy on teacher and pupil management. Work closely with parents and the community.
  • The Ministry of Education can ensure a rigorous selection of trainee teachers and head teachers and provide a gender awareness component in all in-service training courses and workshops (Fiona Leach et al. Department for International Development, Education Research, Serial no 39, 2000)
  • Ensure by law that sexual harassment and violence is prohibited in the school environment by teachers and pupils.
  • Make the law well known and accepted by everyone, empower adolescents to report cases, and enforce effective disciplinary measures for those who abuse.​