Teacher-Student Relationships in Kenyan Province Places Girls at Increased Risk for HIV, Education Official Says
An increasing number of sexual relationships between teachers and students in Kenya's Nyanza province is placing girls at increased risk of HIV/AIDS, Geoffrey Cherongis, Nyanza's provincial director of education, said recently, IRIN/Plus News reports. Cherongis said that some HIV-positive teachers engage in sexual relations with female students and spread the virus to "young girls who hardly know the kind of thing they are getting into."
According to Kenya's Centre for the Study of Adolescence, Nyanza has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country, as well as one of the highest high school dropout rates. On average, girls in Nyanza become sexually active at age 16, compared with age 19 in Nairobi province. The province's high HIV prevalence -- about 15.3%, or twice the national average -- also increases the risk for HIV transmission and makes young girls particularly vulnerable to the virus, according to IRIN/Plus News.
IRIN/Plus News reports that poverty is the main reason female students engage in sexual relationships with teachers and become sexually active at young ages. More than 60% of Nyanza's residents live on less than $1 per day, and the region has the largest number of AIDS orphans in the country. Luke Opondo, Bondo district's HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections coordinator, said, "Poverty and high death rates, which leave girls orphans at an early age, make them want to get money by any means -- not only to take care of themselves, but also to take care of their siblings." According to IRIN/Plus News, teachers in the region often are well-educated and earn a steady income. Cherongis said the situation is "even more complicated because parents, especially those in rural areas, support these affairs for perceived economic gain." Opondo said, "Parents who bless these affairs to get money need to be sensitized."
Although some teachers argue that girls actively seek out such relationships to raise their economic status, Opondo said it is irresponsible to blame students, adding that the "claim by some teachers that these young girls approach them to create affairs does not wash." The teachers are "adults who should act as their parents" and "cannot claim to be influenced by a 14-year-old girl," he said, adding that many girls are coerced into the relationships. "More sex education and punitive measures on teachers are the surest ways to deal with this kind of problem," Opondo said, noting increased efforts to address poverty and the lack of economic support for orphaned girls also are important.
Although Kenya's Ministry of Education provides an HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education curriculum for upper-primary and secondary schools, the program does not address the issue of teacher-student relationships, leaving individual schools to address the situation. According to IRIN/Plus News, a 2006 study by the Population Council found that Kenyan teachers, while relatively well-educated, were "confused or uninformed" about significant aspects of HIV/AIDS. The study said that "many teachers are uncertain about the effectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV infection," which "means that they are not likely to advocate their use, despite the existence of a generalized HIV epidemic in Kenya." Opondo said it is a "double tragedy for these girls; they cannot negotiate for safe[r] sex because they are vulnerable, and they cannot report to authorities for fear of being victimized" (IRIN/Plus News, 3/27).