Child abuse in schools significant
- survey

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
October 8, 2000

A survey on child abuse in the secondary schools in Guyana has revealed significant abuse by teachers, including sexual abuse, in ways that violate the rights of the child, the policies of the Ministry of Education and the laws of the state.

In a presentation on `A Study of Teacher Abuse of Children in Secondary Schools in Guyana' at a one-day seminar at the Hotel Tower a week ago, Social Science graduate of the University of Guyana (UG) Brenda Gill-Marshall stated that child abuse in secondary schools was a serious social problem. The seminar, dealing with 'New Research in the Social Sciences in Guyana 2000' was held under the auspices of the Faculty of Social Sciences at UG.

Gill-Marshall recommended that teachers guilty of abusive behaviour to children not be transferred from one school to another. "It is time", she said, "that legal recourse be sought. Time that abusive teachers be dismissed and their names made public."

She found that of the 1,200 children interviewed in 24 secondary schools in seven administrative regions all had experienced some form of abuse at the hands of their teachers. The students interviewed were from forms one to six.

According to Gill-Marshall, the study found that Guyanese children, in pursuing a secondary education must "put up with either physical, emotional and sexual abuse or neglect inflicted by many teachers." She said there was also evidence that children at the primary and nursery levels were abused by teachers.

Corporal punishment was enshrined in the official policy of the country's education system, she noted, adding that teachers acted in contravention of the guidelines for administering corporal punishment; teachers who were not authorised to flog children did so. Moreso, many schools failed to maintain, as required, a record of whipping. School drop-out, poor performance, and truancy often were the answer for some students who sought a way to end abuse at school. Other children reacted violently by fighting teachers or taking their parents to do so.

The tendency of schools, Gill-Marshall said, "was to cover up or discourage reports of abused by children or their parents. Despite the many negative and at times deadly effects of child abuse the phenomenon pervades the school system." Parents also often gave teachers the go-ahead to physically abuse their children and other parents covered up or just ignore complaints of sexual and other abuse from their children.

Teachers by their own admission clearly stated that abuse at schools continued because of lapsed policies, accommodating head teachers, no clear guidelines on punishment measures and the frequent non-intervention by the Ministry of Education in reports of abuse made by head teachers about teachers towards children. Gill-Marshall said that child abuse in schools was a real phenomenon that affected children daily and one was left to speculate as to what extent these actions of teachers were a consequence of the school being made into a poor environment for the nation's children.

Of 1,200 children interviewed, it was reported that: 226 children were made to kneel; 242 were shaken; 315 were slapped; 697 were whipped; 261 were made to stand on the bench; 172 were cursed; 135 were called derogatory names; 488 were insulted; 410 were put out of the class during instruction time; 592 were neglected; 69 were kissed; 21 were fondled; 160 had teachers who used obscene words to them and 30 had sexual intercourse with teachers.

Of the students who reported having had sex with teachers, Gill-Marshall said, 12 or 40% (mostly females) reported having had sex several times with their teachers. The other 60% (mostly males) reported having sex just once with their teachers.

Of the 30 students who reported having had sex with their teachers, Gill-Marshall said, the majority were from the community high schools. Seventeen from the general secondary schools and 13 from the community high schools said they had sex at school with their teachers.

While some children coped with child abuse, this nevertheless made for the cultural transmission of dysfunctional behaviour across generations, she noted.

Gill-Marshall suggested that more attention had to be paid to administration, classroom discipline, training of teachers and types of persons being employed as teachers.

Noting that a poor secondary education induced by teacher abuse in the secondary education system limited the capacity of youths to take their place in the society as well-adjusted adults, she said that such abuse was also counter-productive to the goals of the Guyana education System and the rights of children. Child abuse as defined by the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence is: "the betrayal of a care-giver's position of trust and authority over a child. This position of trust may be in the hands of parents and other family members as well as teachers within the educational system." The study by Gill-Marshall addressed the issue of betrayal of trust within the school system. Research into incidence, causes and frequency of abuse at schools has been non-existent in the Guyanese society.

The objective of the study was to pinpoint the nature and types of abuse experienced by children in secondary schools in Guyana; to ascertain the incidence of abuse in the school system; to determine the categories of teachers involved in the abuse of children; to ascertain the social background of children who report abuse by teachers; to find out the child's perception of abuse; to understand teachers' perception and definition of abuse; to find out the causes of abuse in schools; to ascertain what were the schools' rules/regulations/policies on treatment and punishment of children in school; to determine whether or not there was cultural support for abuse of children in schools in Guyana; and to ascertain the perception and reaction of school officials and Ministry of Education officials to reports of abuse.

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