DAKAR: Sexual exploitation and coercion are rife in secondary schools in Senegal, defying efforts by one of West Africa’s stablest and most prosperous countries to stamp out the problem, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

In an 85-page report, the watchdog said it had documented evidence of abuse in Senegalese high schools, primarily by teachers who coerced girl students into having sex in exchange for money, good grades, food, new clothes or gadgets such as mobile phones.

“To its credit, Senegal has acknowledged that sexual violence is a serious problem in its schools,” said the report’s author, Elin Mart­inez. “But many teachers are getting away with sexually exploiting and harassing their students, who tolerate sexual offences to advance in secondary school.”

The practice is not just a violation of professional and ethical standards, but also a crime under Senegalese law when the student is under 16, Human Rights Watch said.

The scale of the abuse remains unclear, the report said. However evidence culled from interviews with 160 students and scores of parents, officials, experts and psychologists, suggests the overall problem is “serious”, it added.

The report coincides with an amplifying scandal in fellow West African state Liberia over systemic rape at a girls-only school in the capital Monrovia.

Girls as young as 10 were routinely abused by the co-founder of a US educational charity called More Than Me, at a school intended to empower girls from poor homes.

The full scale of the crimes by More Than Me’s co-founder, Macintosh John­son came to light last week in an investigation by the US media site ProPublica.

The charity apologised deeply after ProPublica ran its piece, and said it was strengthening oversight at its schools to prevent any recurrence.

The abuse at the school began almost from its opening in 2013, Pro-Publica said.

The school suspended Johnson in 2014 after some girls plucked up the courage to speak out.

Johnson died from AIDS in 2016 while awaiting trial, stoking fears that he had infected his victims, ProPublica said.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2018