Thursday, 08 October 2009 18:00

Pornographic materials hit schools as government warns of a disturbing trend

Written by Arthur Okwemba

Take this scenario in Kisumu. One morning as he was going around the school to ensure everything was running smoothly, the headmaster of St Marks Nyabera Primary School in Nyalenda informal settlement, Kisumu, noticed a group of pupils in class four giggling as they flipped through what looked like a book.

On seeing him, the students folded it and pretended to be studying. He too pretended not to have seen them and proceeded on. But he had marked one of them, and during break-time, he summoned the student to come to his office.

 

After several minutes of interrogation, the student confided in him that what they were reading was a pornographic magazine. The headmaster, Dominic Wachio, immediately left his office to fetch the magazine. What he saw horrified him. Pictures of nude men and women having sex in all manner of styles were what the children were treating themselves to.

“What I saw left me speechless. I prayed first before doing anything else because I could not believe the children were enjoying such a magazine,” says Wachio, a born again Christian, who is still struggling to come to terms with what he saw on that day.

The next step was to summon other teachers, who commenced an investigation to establish the number of students who had set their eyes on the glossy publication. What they heard made them panic: the magazine had circulated among the students in all upper classes for close to three weeks.

The source of the magazine was a young girl aged 9 years. She said it was given to her by a man who had a sexual relationship with her mother. The man, who she referred to as ‘uncle’, had told her that what was in the magazine were good things which men and women do. Her mother was speechless when she saw the magazine, and refused to accept that the source was her daughter.

The following morning, the girl narrated how she stuffed the magazine in her schoolbag for her friends to see as well. Word about the magazine went around the school and pupils in upper classes went for it. Within a few days so many of them had had chance to see the graphic images.

In the same class four, teachers had a couple of months before this incident found a 10 year-old girl with Genital Warts infection- a sexually transmitted disease caused by the human papillomavirus. They later learnt she had been lured into sex by a man who showed her a pornographic movie.

Could the pornographic magazine and movies be contributing to the early sexual debut, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies among pupils, teachers at the school pondered. Further investigations by this writer revealed a serious problem that is now widespread in many schools across the country.

The revelations are also coming on the backdrop of concerns by the government that indeed Kenya is becoming, not a only consumer, but a major source of pornographic material. Recently, the Ministry of Information and Communication’s Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo complained of Kenya becoming a producer of pornographic materials, which are sold in China.

Psychologists argue that the use of sexual images is a powerful tool used by some people, including paedophiles, to arouse the interest of those they are targeting for sex.

Aware of this, such sex pests are using pornographic materials to lure young girls into sex, while young boys are going for young girls or having sex with prostitutes to experiment the pornographic presentations they see in the magazines and videos.

In Dandora estate located in the Eastlands of Nairobi, at least two primary schools are grappling with this problem. Here, pupils are even photocopying the pornographic magazines and selling them to fellow pupils at Ksh 20. Young boys and girls at Dandora I Primary School admitted to have seen such magazines with their friends, who were able to buy the photocopies ones saving the Ksh 20 from the money they are given for lunch.

Teachers in these schools have on several occasions summoned parents and guardians and complained about the pornographic materials.

“Early this year, we had a parents meeting where a teacher complained of having confiscated such materials from two boys,” says Mary Wairimu, a parent at James Gichuru Primary school in Dandora.

Some schools have now introduced tough measures to deal with such cases by tracing the people who supply the material to these pupils.

Our investigations however show that with introduction of computers and internet services within schools, techno savvy students are able to access pornographic sites and then download their images on their mobile phones.

The process becomes much easier for those whose phones have access to the internet. And with the loopholes in the law or in some cases lack of legal regime on such issues, those behind this distribution of pornographic information are getting away with murder.

Back in Western Kenya, at Kisumu Day and Lela Day secondary schools, teachers decried the high number of pornographic materials accessible to the students.

A number of the boys who have been treated for having sexually transmitted infections, especially gonorrhoea, admitted to have slept with prostitutes to experiment the styles they saw in the pornographic materials.

A teacher who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of losing the trust of his students said: “On several occasions some of the boys have confessed to me that they have pornographic materials whose styles they can try with prostitutes.”

At Kisumu Day, students admitted that pornographic materials were circulating secretly in the school.

“Some of our friends say they try the sex styles they see in these magazines with prostitutes in town or their girl friends,” said a form three student.

A teacher at the school admitted that cases of gonorrhoea have been reported among the students, with some of them being circumcised to cure the problem.

The proliferation of these materials in schools such this one are a major concern among teachers and parents, which they believe are to blame for the increasing cases of sexual violence, rape, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion among students.

In boys’ boarding schools, these magazines are being blamed for rising cases of homosexuality. Increased cases of school dropout rate among young pregnant girls, is partly blamed on these materials as well, says Wachio. This year alone, three girls at St Marks primary school dropped out after they became pregnant.

Apart from the magazines, teachers have caught students with pornographic CD’s now being hawked in almost all the towns in the country.

Interviews with individual’s students revealed a serious problem that needs to be addressed urgently. It also showed how pornography is driving young people into sex at a very tender age.

“When my friend showed me a pornographic video, he told me he was going to also try to feel the way the people in the video were feeling,” said a 12-year-old standard six student at St Mark Primary School.

The student recounted how his colleagues in Nyalenda slums of Kisumu were accessing pornographic pictures and then using them to request girls in the same age group or younger to have sex.

“They just tell the girl to try and do what is in this video or papers, and everything starts,” the pupil said.

At Lela Mixed Secondary School, Nyando District, the story is the same. What is worrying teachers in the affected schools is they lack the skills and the language to confront and tackle these issues.

At St Marks Nyabera Primary School, teachers pleaded for training on how to handle students found with such materials or communicate sexuality issues so that pupils are empowered to be more responsible when they see such publications.

“One thing we want to do is understand why these students are doing this, and how to talk to those supplying them with these materials,” says Wachio.

At the moment, those found with pornographic materials are referred to teachers who double as counsellors according to Dolphine Okech, the Executive Director of Kefeado, an organization that works with schools on issues around sexual maturation and young people.

But many of them are overwhelmed due to the countless cases they have to attend to, leaving little time to solve exhaustively cases such as those of graphic sexual images.

Most schools in the country have only one teacher who does counselling for the entire student population. Teachers are now pushing for two teacher counsellors for each school to help handle the many serious cases being reported to their offices.

They also want parents and guardians to take an active role in monitoring the activities of their children as regards access to pornographic magazines and videos.

“The most unfortunate thing is the parents have left everything to the teachers and the maids. They do not know what is going on in the lives of their children,” complained Okech.

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