The original story was published on TIME on 5 April 2016. Written by Michal Zebede and Shiza Shahid. To read the complete story, click here.
Monrovia, Liberia – Every time 15-year-old Sarafina (whose name has been changed for her privacy) entered math class, she braced herself for a challenge no student should have to face: her male teacher would harass her, ask her to give him “love” and touch her inappropriately.
Sarafina initially coped by pretending this was not happening; when her teacher’s advances escalated to inappropriate touching along with more assertive and frequent sexual requests, she told him to stop. But the harassment persisted, and she began skipping school for days at a time. At the end of the school year, the teacher refused to give Sarafina her report card, without which she could not move on to the next grade. Her parents kept asking her about the missing report card but, scared and ashamed, Sarafina refused to explain its absence.
Meanwhile, the teacher began to call her at home. “You are a stubborn child,” he said. “I ask you all the time to be my girlfriend, and you refuse. Unless you accept my offer, I will not give your report card to you.” Unbeknownst to him, Sarafina had decided to let her father listen in on this phone call.
Sarafina’s story is unfortunately a common one in her country. Last September, UNICEF sent a text to young Liberians through mobile platform U-Report, that read simply: “Do U agree that sex 4 grades is a problem in our schools?”
The report showed that 86% of young respondents from all regions of the West African state replied “yes.” (Although the question was posed to confirm the bias, there are statistics that illustrate a widespread problem.)