It's a beautiful moonlit night in Barra, Mozambique. I'm walking down the beach with George, a local from the area. The beauty surrounding us is evident with the long white beach and gentle palm trees. However, I'm here to learn about a darker phenomenon. I ask George about teachers exchanging sex for grades with their female students. He laughs quietly and says yes, that is happening everywhere. 'It is very common for students to have to pay their teachers to pass the grade as well. It doesn't matter if you're smart, you just need to be able to pay. All that matters in this country is money,' he says.
Corruption, a major problem in Mozambique, as it is in many parts of the world. However, its entrance into Mozambican schoolyards with teachers giving students higher grades in exchange for sexual relations is particularly disturbing.
An American teacher who prefers not to be named worked for two years in Namuno, Cabo Delgado at Secondary School, Santa Maria de Namuno. She first became aware of sexual harassment in her school after a teacher came to her house to harass a student she was living with.
She was helping the teachers with the grading system and noticed many male teachers were coming to change the student's grades. She began to learn that students' grades had nothing to do with merit, but was instead about who their family members were, if the child's family had paid the teachers, or if the girls were girlfriends of the teachers. Intelligent students were failing and children who were not good students were passing with flying colours.
'The teachers became angry with me because I wasn't letting them change students grades and dismantle their sex system,' she said.
'One day I walked into a classroom of a teacher and he had written how much it would cost to pass the grade on the board,' she says. 'They don't even try to hide it.'
She saw students as young as 13 being harassed by teachers. The teachers were around 30 or 40 years old.
The teachers would blame the students were provoking them for their clothes and would directly call girls sluts, she told me. 'The male teachers would work together and if one female student wouldn't sleep with a teacher the other male teachers would gang up on her and all give her bad grades.'
Rita a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Barra beach who was attending Escola Secondaria Conguiana confirms teachers are asking children for sex.
"They give the girls their phone number and ask them to call them. They don't want to get married, they just want to have sex with the girls and leave them," she says.
If students say no they'll be in trouble with their marks, if they accept then they'll get better marks. She reports that it happens a lot.
"I don't think its right," she says.
Emilia Dausse, a 19-year-old student secondary school at Caterina Anmando says at her school teachers would ask girls who are 14 or 15 year old for sex.
She attributes the problem to poverty, students think that if they can get some food or pass the grade in return for sleeping with the teacher, then things can be a little bit better. Teachers are taking advantage of the poverty, including the headmaster, she reports.
'Sex is a business,' she says. 'I don't think this is good.'
In a meeting with Shaista de Araujo, a women's rights activist based in Maputo she tells me as a patriarchal society, girls are expected to be submissive and are less valued, which is the biggest problem.
'The problem is the girls don't know their rights,' she says.
Teachers blame the students because of the way they are dressed. Recently the ministry of education changed the uniform so that girls had to wear long skirts. The Mozambican Young Feminist Movement, Movfemmme and others organized a protest in response to the new rule which resulted in some of her colleagues being put in jail. "We said that they should be focusing on the real problem which is the teachers who are not protecting the girls rights, not what the girls are wearing," she said.
"I have to believe that things can get better,' she says. 'We need to find ways to get women to wake up and realize their rights."
While poverty remains one of the greatest shadows over the country it seems that the rights of girls and women will be put on hold. Morality seems to have been put on hold as well, at least in Mozambican schools. One wonders what goes on the minds of such men who use the vulnerability of school girls to extort sex. One wonders if such men feel compassion or empathy or are only driven by their own desires to have sex with children. It would seem that the latter is more likely. Under such circumstances it seems that in order to decrease girls vulnerability to abusive teachers, it is necessary to reduce poverty.
However, as long as corruption and inefficiency runs rampant through the country, poverty will thrive as will cycles of violence. What will this mean for schoolgirls who attend schools where teachers use incentives to trade sex for grades? What will this mean for a schoolgirl with dreams of being a doctor? Must she be forced to compromise between prostituting herself or just simply missing out on an education? Just because some male teacher makes a choice to not control himself. No young girl ever deserves to be placed in such a situation and it is up to all of us in our own communities that no girl ever is.