In March 2000, 26 girls were burnt to death in an arson attack on their dormitory at Bombululu secondary school in coastal Kenya. And in March 2006, 15 schoolgirls were raped in the central district of Nyeri as they staged a nighttime protest for better living conditions, writes George Anang'a Monday at the Guardian.
Plan's recent report, which is a comprehensive global examination of school violence, focuses on three major areas: sexual violence, corporal punishment and bullying. The report shows that children across the world are sexually and physically abused by adults with a duty to protect them.
In Kenya, rape, threats, coercion, bullying and deaths have plagued schools – and girls are often the main casualties. The incidents of mass rape and death attract huge media attention and public condemnation. Yet they camouflage the everyday bullying, humiliation and violence that is perpetrated in schools, especially against girls, writes Anang'a Monday.
"Sexual abuse of girls is often perpetrated by male students, who are confident they will get away with it. Attacks can also stem from a lack of private spaces for girls in schools and at home, and the eternal fear that girls can be married off to strangers."
Violence in Kenyan schools has many causes, from cultural beliefs to the negative stereotypes of women. The problem is that girls often think they have no recourse because an act of violence against them is "acceptable".
"Even though the Kenyan government introduced free primary education in 2003 and subsidized secondary education in 2008, paying for school, fees and uniforms gives teachers and school administrators an edge over students. Coupled with the fact that a huge percentage of teachers in schools are male, girls who have been sexually abused or raped are understandably reluctant to report this to a male teacher."
Poverty places girls at risk because many are from poor families who may not report any violence against her especially if they rely on the goodwill of teachers to continue in education. Poverty exposes girls more than boys to risks that include exchanging sexual favours for their continued education, and risking exposure to HIV/Aids, writes Anang'a Monday.
"Violence in schools, especially against girls, has a lifelong effect on the victims. And suicides among girls have a devastating impact on their friends and family. Girls who have endured violence or bullying grow up lacking in self-esteem, and even accept that violence against them is an acceptable societal "norm" – a result of some "fault" of their own."
Anang'a Monday writes that education needs to take place in an atmosphere where children feel secure and supported. The Kenyan government banned corporal punishment in schools in 2001 and the Children's Act that year entitles children to protection from abuse and violence. But there are still regular reports of beatings and violence, especially against girls in schools.
Anecdotal evidence in many communities shows that when girls are supported, educated and nurtured into fulfilling careers, communities gain in terms of improved healthcare, smaller and manageable families, and female role models who inspire future generations.