While many girls in Mozambique leave school by age 11, Maria* has other plans. The 16-year-old hopes to be among the one percent of females who go on to university in her country, and she dreams of becoming a journalist.
But Maria's bright future is threatened when her school teacher allegedly demands sex, and says he will fail her if she refuses. Maria's heartbreaking claims—and the stories of many other Mozambique girls who have been abused by their teachers—are recounted in reporter Kiki King’s powerful documentary Teachers Breaking Trust, screening on SBS’s Dateline.
In the film, Maria explains how her teacher deliberately distorted her grades over the course of the school year.
“He said, ‘You had perfectly good grades. I made you fail the school year. It was me who made this happen,’” she says.
Maria was invited to what she thought was a group study session, only to find herself alone with the teacher when she was 15.
“He didn’t say, 'I’m going to make love to you.' He said something I don’t want to repeat,” she recounts. “He said, ‘I’ll make you repeat the year three times. You’ll never pass.’”
Speaking to marie claire from Spain, King explains that countless other schoolgirls in Mozambique have been pressured into sex from their teachers.
“Sex for grades is where students feel that they have to give up sex in exchange for good grades at school," she says. "They are pressured for sex by their teachers and they're told if they don’t enter into a sexual relationship with their teacher that they are going to fail the year.”
While making the documentary, King and her team investigated if the horrifying notion of 'sex for grades’ was an isolated occurrence, or something widespread.
“Everywhere we went in Mozambique, we had a lot of documented evidence that this is happening in big cities and rural areas, in middle-class neighbourhoods and incredibly poor areas, and it targets Muslim girls and Christian girls and Catholic girls,” she says.
“It’s surprisingly widespread, and the reality is it's just another form of men being violent towards women.”
Maputo-based journalist and activist Lucilia Jose adds: “It’s very common in our district".
King recounts finding a girl as young as 13 who was a victim of sexual abuse.
“It wasn’t strictly of her own teacher, but I did interview a girl who wound up carrying the baby of a teacher of a different school and she was only 13 years old,” she tells marie claire.
The reporter also met a teacher who claims he had sex with a student, which he now deeply regrets.
“She was 13 years old. I liked her because she was beautiful,” the teacher says on camera. “I manipulated her grades. If she got a good grade, I tried to lower it.”
In 2008, Mozambique’s Ministry of Education found that 70 percent of schoolgirls were aware of teachers putting pressure on students for sex, SBS reports. A staggering 54 percent of Mozambique women said they had been subjected to physical or sexual violence, as documented in a 2009 United Nations study.
But the rates of sexual abuse being reported at schools—and teachers being held accountable—is extremely low.
“In terms of people being prosecuted and going to jail, I really struggled to find anyone,” King says.
“What it comes down to is the same problem with sexual violence anywhere in the world under any circumstances; it’s one girl's word against one man’s word. And unfortunately women are often blamed for things that happened to them, they’re not believed and they’re not taken seriously.”
While schools are meant to be a safe haven for students, some institutions in post-civil war Mozambique leave girls at risk.
“School is a relatively new and rarefied thing for girls to be involved in, they’re incredibly vulnerable when they are in school, and school teachers are incredibly powerful within rural communities, especially,” King explains.
Since filming the documentary, King reveals with great relief that Maria’s teacher was investigated by the school's headmaster. The teacher has since been fired from the school and will never teach again.
“It was incredibly moving to hear that,” King says. “It was almost a bittersweet moment because it made me feel good as a journalist because I felt like we had a part playing in that, but I almost wished that a documentary could be made about every single girl in the country who is facing this kind of violence.”
* Name has been changed
Watch the full report – Teachers Breaking Trust on Dateline, Tuesday 3 October at 9.30pm on SBS.