We meet girls in Mozambique, some as young as 13, who are being subjected to horrific sexual abuse and threats by their school teachers.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017 - 21:30

NOTE: Apologies, but this story is no longer available for copyright reasons - you can however read the transcript below.

School is supposed to be a place where children feel safe. But what happens when it’s the opposite?

In this week’s Dateline, reporter Kiki King investigates a disturbing phenomenon in Mozambique, where young girls are being violently abused by their teachers – who are demanding sex in return for good grades.

One 16-year-old girl Maria* says a male teacher told her he was the reason she was failing her subjects – that he had made it happen. She claims he invited her to a guest house for what she thought was a group study session, but only the teacher was there.

The teacher demanded sex – threatening Maria by saying he’d continue to fail her.

“He said straight away that he wanted to… he didn’t say, ‘I want to make love to you’, but something I can’t repeat,” Maria says.

“It’s very common in our district,” says Lucilia Jose, a journalist who has reporting on sexual abuse in schools for a community radio in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

“The majority of girls get harassed but don’t talk about it.”

In one report from 2008, Mozambique’s Ministry of Education found that 70 per cent of schoolgirls knew of teachers putting pressure on students for sex and it’s estimated roughly a third of children between 12 and 15 have been victims of sexual violence. In a 2009 United Nations study, 54 per cent of interviewed Mozambique women said they had been subject to physical or sexual violence in their lives.

The violence against women prevalent in Mozambique has been partly attributed to a brutal civil war that tore the country apart in the 1990s – and which has led to ongoing conflict.

The issues aren’t isolated to Mozambique either – according to the East, Central and Southern African Health Commission, a third of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 18.

Mozambique’s Minister of Education, Jorge Ferrao, recognises the seriousness of the issue, but says it will take time to fix.

“It makes me sick, depressed, but this is the reality which sometimes we have to go through,” he says.

For Lucilia, the journalist, these issues are personal.

“I suffered sexual harassment, but not so bad,” she says.

“But my cousin suffered very serious sexual harassment. At some point, she was…harassed by her teacher.”

One teacher, who says he had sex with one of his students, told Dateline how the system of abuse works.

“In 2011, I met a schoolgirl in my class,” he said. “She was 13 years old. I liked her because she was beautiful.”

“I had to…manipulate her grades. If she had good grades, I tried to lower them. I was trying more and more to humiliate her in class and she finally agreed to have a date with me.”

“I regret it because after I got involved with her, she ended up leaving because I’d tricked her. That’s the main reason for regret, I used my power.”

The teacher, who didn’t want to be named, says abuse against students in the country is so widespread that he doesn’t fear prosecution.

For the safety of young girls like Maria, and others too scared to talk about abuse they’ve suffered, will this horrifying trend ever be reversed?

*Names have been changed.

NOTE: Apologies, but this story is no longer available for copyright reasons - you can however read the transcript below.


Reporter: Kiki King

Producer: Karim Shah

Associate Director / Camera: Kate Hardie-Buckley

Location Producer: Peter P Gudo

Associate Producer: Ruth Mayer

Editor: Aidan Sansom


Mozambique was torn apart by civil war until the 1990s. There is still fighting in some parts of the country.  It’s government is trying to rebuild the country.

LUCILIA JOSE, RADIO JOURNALIST (Translation):  You’re listening to community radio. We bring you information about life matters, health and our community.

Lucilia Jose is a radio journalist and with a mission. She is investigating teachers who demand sex to give schoolgirls their rightful exam grades, the grades they need to progress through school and on to university. She says it's widespread.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  This is what I can do to help our society to change this behaviour and have a better life.

We joined Lucilia as she comes off air and heads to her next assignment at a secondary school in the north of the country. She's about to record a radio show with some very excited participants. And these girls are piling into the classroom to do something for the first time, talk about teachers pressurising them to have sex.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  Everyone who has heard about sexual harassment in this school, please raise your hand. I can see that even when you want to raise your hand, you’re scared to actually do it.

GIRLS (Translation):  Yes!

SCHOOLGIRL 1 (Translation):  We feel as threatened as if the teachers were in here now. If I or someone else here names a teacher, some colleagues will tell him out there. And he’ll threaten us just the same.

SCHOOLGIRL 2 (Translation):  It’s true, isn’t it?

Lucilia's recording this discussion. She'll broadcast it later on her radio show. If teachers are sexually abusing students in schools across this area, she wants them to report it.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  Have you ever talked about this?

GIRLS (Translation):  No!

SCHOOLGIRL 1 (Translation):  We’re also asking you to talk to the teachers, not just the girls.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  Okay. It’s an idea. We’re talking about fear, aren’t we? Fear we’re used to feeling when a teacher aims to harass us. What we’re saying is that we’re afraid.

This is one school in one part of Mozambique and when Lucilia walked into the classrooms and talked to the girls about sex for grades, they all knew exactly what she was talking about. It really drove home for me what a big problem this is. In 2008, the ministry of education found that 78% of schoolgirls knew of teachers putting pressure on schoolgirls for sex.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  It’s very common in our district. The majority of girls get harassed but don’t talk about it. If parents were more in charge, they’d know when it happens. But she keeps quiet about it. So other girls do the same in the face of sexual harassment, thinking that it’s normal.

I go to Lucilia's radio station, the reports on sex for grades that she broadcasts from here are gathering attention. Lucilia's just gone to speak to 3 schoolgirls who turned up here and wanted to speak to her, so I'm going to go in and see if I can listen in on what they're talking about.

MARIA, SCHOOL GIRL (Translation):  He came to me and he said “I’m not joking with you here.” He said “So you’ll keep failing. And you had good grades”. “I did all I could so that you’d fail the year. It was me who made that happen.”

This girl, who we're calling Maria, is 16. She claims last year, when she was 15, she was invited to a guest house for what she thought it was a group study session. On arrival, she said she found herself alone with a teacher.

MARIA (Translation):  He said straight away that he wanted to… He didn’t say, “I want to make love to you,” but something I can’t repeat.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  Relax, just say it.

MARIA (Translation):  He said…

Maria says he demanded sex, but she refused.

MARIA (Translation):  He’s the teacher.   He said I’d have to repeat Year 10 three times, because he’d never pass me. Until now, that’s been my situation.

The fact she's chosen Lucilia to speak to, well, that tells me this place is a lot than a radio station. It's a lifeline for young girls like her.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  I’m going to take your case to the authorities. And maybe, one day, believe me you’re going to pass this year. Okay?

We travel to meet Maria's mother. Lucilia wants to talk to her and let her know what's been going on. Maria and her mum decide they want to tell us their story. It's a courageous decision, but for their protection, we have decided to obscure their identities.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  … there’s sexual abuse.

MARIA’S MOTHER (Translation):  When I first heard about it, I thought about going to complain, to punish the person who had done it, but…

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  She thought they’d kick her out of school.

MARIA’S MOTHER (Translation):  So I remained silent.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  But, from the moment he said, for example, “I want to have sex with you”… he’s committing a crime. 

Maria's dad died when she was very young. Her mother supports the family, but she feels powerless to do anything about the threats her daughter says she's getting from her teacher.

MARIA (Translation):  I’ve been thinking lots of things. To stop studying, to give it up, not show up at school anymore because of what he said. He said he’d fail me for three years. That upset me. Why go to school if I’m behind for three years.

REPORTER:  What do you want to do when you leave school?

MARIA (Translation):  I realise that my dream won’t come true. I want to be a journalist but I can see that’s not possible.

None of Maria's dreams will come true unless she stays at school and gets the right grades. Maria takes me to the river, where she does the family's washing. Most girls in Mozambique leave school by the age of 11, spending their days carrying out domestic chores and manual work.

REPORTER:  What is it like growing up in this neighbourhood?

MARIA (Translation):  In my neighbourhood, there are lots of girls who are pregnant. They ended up quitting their studies.

Maria wants a different life, but she needs high grades to get to university. It's her greatest dream, but only 1% of girls in Mozambique reach higher education.

REPORTER:  Do you feel different to those girls?

MARIA (Translation):  I still have to study and help my mother. I’m not ready to marry.

Maria knows school is her ticket to a different life. But she's scared and doesn't know whether she can continue. With the agreement of Maria and her family, Lucilia, a radio journalist, alerts Maria's headmaster to the allegations against his member of staff. He says he'll start an investigation, but at the moment, without any hard evidence, it's a schoolgirl's word against a teacher's. Lucilia is not going to give up, for her, it's personal.
Lucilia lives with her husband, also a journalist, they have a 4-year-old daughter.

REPORTER:  What motivated you to start campaigning on the sex for grades problem?

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  I suffered sexual harassment, but not so bad. But my cousin suffered very serious sexual harassment. At some point, she was…harassed by her teacher. When I started producing radio programs, I thought about it. At the end of the day, what my cousin and I went through…it’s the same as what these other schoolgirls are going through now. 

Lucilia is determined her daughter's dreams won't be destroyed by sex for grades.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):   She’ll choose what she wants to be and I’ll help for her dream to come true. That’s all.  I’m not deciding that she’ll be this or that. No.   She herself, when she grows up, will choose what she wants to be and I’ll help her achieve her dreams.

ELENA (Translation):  I’m going to school next year.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  Yes, you’re going to school next year.

There is no record of how many teachers in Mozambique have been prosecuted over sex for grades. Lawyers tell us such prosecutions are incredibly rare. It took some digging, but we finally found a teacher who allegedly abused one of his pupils. We're on our way to talk to him now. He's ashamed of what he did and says he wants to speak out. He says the practice is so widespread, he doesn't fear prosecution, but has asked us not to use his name.

REPORTER:  How did you find out there was a system whereby you put pressure on a student by lowering her grades?

TEACHER (Translation):  I ended up learning about it because… at the time when I was studying, there were some cases. And also sometimes, as happened when I was in YEAR 10, I served as a go-between for a teacher. A teacher asked me to tell a girl to go to his house. 

He went on to become a teacher. He claims he had sex with a schoolgirl.

TEACHER (Translation):  In 2011, I met a schoolgirl in my class. She was 13 years old. I liked her because she was beautiful. I had to… manipulate her grades. If she had good grades, I tried to lower them. I was trying more and more to humiliate her in class and she finally agreed to have a date with me.

REPORTER:   Do you regret pressurising that 13-year-old girl to have sex?

TEACHER (Translation):  Yes, I regret it because, after I got involved with her, she ended up leaving because I’d tricked her. That’s my main reason for regret, I used my power.  

He still is a teacher. Off camera, he says this kind of abuse is as bad as ever.

REPORTER:  Is this problem ever going to change?

TEACHER (Translation):  I know things won’t change. But I have a daughter now and I love my child. If I came to hear about cases of sexual harassment in schools, I’d feel awful. Yes, I’d feel awful because I know it’s a terrible thing to do. Yes… yes.

Lucilia's concerned that Maria will drop out of school, so we head to see her. Her end of year exams begin next week and her future depends on passing them. Lucilia is bringing her a mobile phone, so Maria can call for support at any time.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  Here’s the phone

MARIA (Translation):  Thank you so much

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  Use it when you need to. But don’t use it for things that aren’t important. Did you talk to that teacher today?

MARIA (Translation):  He said he’s watching your every move. “But you’ll have to deal with me, don’t forget that.”

Lucilia hopes the phone will give Maria the confidence to stay in school and get the grades she needs. I'm not sure it's going to be enough.

MARIA (Translation):  More and more, he’s telling me things that make me not want to go back to school. So what should I do? Just stay sitting at home? Give it up once and for all and never go back to school?

Maria's being incredibly brave by sharing her story. While we film with her, I meet many more girls across the country, who say they're facing similar problems from teachers but they're too scared to go on camera. Sex for grades seems so widespread and common place here. I really want to find out what are the laws against this.

REPORTER:  Dr Tarcisio Abibo, hi!

Dr Tarcisio Abibo is a human rights lawyer. Stopping sexual harassment in schools is high on his agenda.

REPORTER: What are the rules? What are the laws to stop this from happening?

DR. TARCISIO ABIBO, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER (Translation):  In this legislation there’s an article, Article 224, which deals with sexual harassment. It’s something that’s considered a crime in this country. A memorandum was sent to every school in the country explaining that for any teacher involved in this activity, situations of sexual harassment, there’s zero tolerance.

It's the day of Maria's end of year exams. Passing these means she'll graduate to her final year, and have a shot at university. The headmaster's investigation is ongoing, but the man she claims harassed her is still teaching at her school.

REPORTER:  Are you scared about seeing your teacher?

MARIA (Translation):  I’m scared. I’m feeling scared about meeting him. Even just walking around, I’m scared of him. Yes, I get nervous just thinking about him, so nervous and a bit sad. But when I’m out of school and not seeing him, I feel good.  I’m very happy then.

She won't find out her exam result for a few weeks. A few days later, I travel to Mozambique's capital, Maputo. I'm here to meet the minister of education. But before I do, I'm going to see a group of girls speaking out against sexual harassment in schools.

BELIFACIA, STUDENT (Translation):  Hello, dear listeners of community radio…

This radio show is hosted by teenagers. They're part of the movement to break the silence around sex for grades. Zelia is 19 and still at school.

ZELIA, STUDENT (Translation):  In that kind of environment. We end up resigning ourselves to certain types of behaviour. Even sexual harassment, because, for us, I think, it’s become the norm.

They want other girls to join them in protest.

BELIFACIA (Translation):  So now I’m inviting all girls to participate this Saturday, the 15th, in a march which will start from Praca de Paz. Kisses and hugs and… good afternoon.  All the best.

I fix to join them at the protest. They hope that growing grassroots support will force the government to crack down harder on sex for grades. When I meet the minister of education, Jorge Ferrao, I tell him about the allegations I've heard from Maria and other girls to too frightened to go on camera. He tells me that sex for grades has been tolerated for too long.

JORGE FERRAO, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION:  It makes me sick and depressed, but this is the reality which sometimes we have to go through.

REPORTER:  We know that sex for grades is a crime under Mozambican law. But are enough teachers being charge and prosecuted for this crime?

JORGE FERRAO:  It’s something which we need to address very strongly, but it will take time. And it will take time because as I mentioned before it has been imbed in the cultural values and in the cultural attitudes of the people.

REPORTER:  A lot of times the girls feel that it’s just their word against the teachers, and perhaps going back to the cultural point the teachers have more power.

JORGE FERRAO:   This is not the kind of teachers that we want in our system. And I think with time we will  find ways and means of start cleaning up a little bit the system, taking the ones who are not good teachers, putting them aside and then bring a new generation of teachers which, you know, are more dedicated and more committed.

The demonstration the girls at the radio station were promoting are under way. Schoolgirls are joining women's rights groups from all over Africa. They feel too often, that schoolgirls, not teachers, take the blame for sexual harassment.

GIRLS (Translation):  Schoolgirls don’t cry.

They're outraged the Mozambican government recently told schoolgirls to wear long skirts to avoid tempting their teachers.

GIRLS (Translation):  End sexual abuse in schools!

After the march, I meet feminist activists from other African countries including Senegal, Kenya, and Tanzania.

REPORTER: We’ve been looking at the problem of sex for grades in Mozambican schools where teachers put pressure on their students to have sex with them in exchange for good grades. Is this something you’re familiar with back home?

SENEGAL LADY:  Very much so. And it’s very unfortunate that this is the only way to have the future.

TANZANIA LADY:  So it’s definitely a problem in Tanzania as well and yes, the system needs to change, and it has started changing.

KENYA LADY:  And in the Kenyan context I tell you it happens a lot.

SENEGAL LADY:  Where there's a case of harassment or abuse, the professor not only has to be expelled, it has to be processed in the traditional system.

All 3 of these women knew exactly what I meant when I started talking about sex for grades. It happens in their countries too and the interesting thing is it’s compounded by the same things, silence and victim blaming.

Back in the north of the country, Lucilia, the journalist, is continuing to monitor Maria's case. She wants to make sure that Maria's headmaster is still investigating her allegations. She knows if complaints like this aren't dealt with properly, the girls will continue to believe they have no choice but to accept harassment and the practice of sex for grades.

LUCILIA JOSE (Translation):  That’s why on many occasions girls give in easily. If you’re not courageous, these threats can make you quit school.

After we left Mozambique, the teacher who Maria claims made advances to her was interviewed by the headmaster. He is still teaching at the school as investigations continue. Maria is waiting for her exam results and continuing to go to school.

kiki king

director / camera
karim shah

associate director / camera
kate hardie-buckley

location producer
peter p gudo

associate producer
ruth mayer

story editor
aidan sansom

micah mcgown
simon phegan
david potts

3rd October 2017