Safety of pre-tertiary students: Sexual harassment policy in full force
The Ghana Education Service (GES) has launched a sexual harassment awareness and prevention policy intended to make the school environment safe for students in pre-tertiary educational establishments.
The policy contains guidelines on what constitutes sexual harassment, avenues for awareness creation for teachers and students, opportunities for training stakeholders on sexual harassment and punitive regimes for culprits.
The Minister of Education, Dr Yaw Osei Adutwum, launched the guidelines at the ongoing 2023 National Education Week in Accra last Tuesday.
Developed by the GES and stakeholders such as Ghana TVET Service and Mastercard Foundation, the policy’s overall objective is to address the triggers of sexual harassment and make the school environment safe for students to attain the desired educational outcomes.
Present at the event were the Director-General of the GES, Dr Eric Nkansah; the Director of Guidance and Counselling at the GES, Gifty Sekyi-Bremansu; and heads of some agencies under the Ministry of Education.
Describing it as groundbreaking in the educational system, Dr Adutwum said the development of the guidelines was timely, especially so when the country was undergoing a "major reform in education".
The minister stressed that while those reforms were being pursued, it was also necessary to make sure that a safe learning environment was provided for children.
"That is why I am happy to launch a policy that prevents sexual harassment in our schools," he said.
He said the intended outcomes of the reforms in the education sector would not be achieved if the school environment was not safe.
Dr Adutwum said although he believed in the professionalism of the Ghanaian teacher, the reality was that in a perfect world, there could be imperfection, "and that is why this policy has been developed to ensure that nobody does anything untoward to children, whether male or female".
He noted that what the GES had done by providing a guideline on sexual harassment in schools was not a novelty because across the world, such measures had been implemented to keep children safe so that they could develop their knowledge and become responsible citizens.
The minister said as part of processes to roll out the policy, teachers would be trained through virtual and in-person modes.
Also, he said children would be groomed to be aware of possible triggers and acts of sexual harassment.
Touching on the punitive regimes, he said "The punishment for sexual harassment is what the country's laws prescribe."
"No adult should take advantage of any student in any school at any level in this country; because if you do that the law will catch up with you," he stressed.
He called on all stakeholders, including school authorities, parents, opinion leaders and civil society organisations (CSOs) to rally around the policy to ensure that it would succeed.
For her part, Ms Sekyi-Bremansu called for an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure that the guidelines were implemented in a way that would make the school environment safe.
She stressed that given that schools were a hub of knowledge acquisition, there ought to be an environment that promoted respect, dignity and safety for all members of that community.
"Safe schools is a shared responsibility," she said, urging all stakeholders to play their roles as expected of them.
A study by Girls Excellence Movement (GEM) revealed that 52 per cent of female students in senior high schools (SHSs) had been abused sexually.
The report, titled “Sheltered Yet Exposed”, involved 2,000 girls across 15 schools in the Greater Accra, Volta, Central and Eastern regions.
It revealed that individuals who sexually abused the girls included teachers, schoolmates, friends, uncles and family friends.
The study further said the situation had caused depression, trauma, panic attacks and anxiety among the students, and was taking its toll on their education and well-being.
In September 2021, there was a viral video on social media in which an Anglican priest at the St Monica’s College of Education was seen kissing some students.
In the video, the priest had “a kiss on the lips” session with the girls one after the other in the full glare of other students amid cheers from the audience.
The video sparked a national debate, with many individuals, civil society organisations (CSOs) and institutions describing it as despicable.
Following that viral video, Education Resources, an advocacy organisation, called on the GES to, as a matter of urgency, develop guidelines on sexual harassment.
The group called for the sexual harassment policy to spell out clear grievance procedures that must be followed once an incident occurred.
The non-governmental organisation also recommended that training must be given to school administrators and staff on sexual harassment: what it is, how to avoid it and how to deal with complaints.