“There is a war on girls going on at our school. The girls here are exploited by teachers and the headteacher in exchange for exam passes and good grades. It’s part of the child sex trade,” says Maria Rosa, 17, WCP Child Rights Ambassador at a boarding school in Mozambique. Maria Rosa fights for girls’ rights .
"I have lived at this school for four years. Before I moved here I was really looking forward to starting school. But I quickly realised that something was wrong. Nobody treats children well at this school. Neither the teachers, nor the headteacher, nor the guards, nor the people who supervise the dormitories. It’s as though they are waging a war against us girls.
“One day I was called to the headteacher’s office. He asked me to close the door and started playing pornographic films on his computer. He told me to watch. When I asked him why, he replied that I already knew all about what people do in films like these. Then he asked me if I was going to tell him the truth or not.
“I said that I always tell the truth. Then he showed me a list of all the students in the school. He pointed to a boy’s name and asked if it was true that he was my boyfriend. I replied truthfully, that I didn’t have a boyfriend. Then he said I was lying.
“Then he asked me if I was a virgin and I said I was. He told me to show him the palms of my hands and then said, “You’re lying! I can see from the palms of your hands that you are not a virgin!”
“I told him that all the questions he was asking me were my own business and that they were very personal. And he replied, “I am your headteacher and I am older than you! I have a right to ask you these things. Tread carefully or I’ll tell your parents!”
“I said that my mother and father know that I always tell the truth, and that I would tell them myself what had happened. Then he said: “If you do that, I will kick you out of this school and make sure that you will never attend another school in Mozambique for as long as you live! Now you can tell your classmate outside that it’s her turn.” That day, he interrogated lots of the girls at our school in the same way.
Taking advantage of weakness
“But the interrogation isn’t the worst thing that happens at this school. Teachers threaten us and say that we won’t pass our exams or graduate unless we sleep with them. The head-teacher says the same thing.
“One of my friends and I used to be in the same class. She struggles a bit with school work and I had much better exam results. When the headteacher discovered her weakness, he used it to get what he wanted. Since she was afraid of failing her exams and having to drop out of school, she felt that she had to agree to everything the headteacher asked of her.
“Since then she has passed all her exams with excellent grades. Even though I am better at school work, she is the one who has been moved up to Year 12, and I’m still in Year 10. I am not making progress in school because I refuse to do what the headteacher demands of me.
“Seeing girls being exploited in this way makes me angry and worried. I think this is partly because I myself was abused when I was just eight years old. For a long time I have wanted to fight against all the bad things that happen at school, but I just didn’t know how.
“But one day I was selected to go on Child Rights Ambassador training from the World’s Children’s Prize. The Globe magazine opened my eyes. I realised that we could no longer tolerate the abuse we faced at school. That we had to become like the girls in The Globe, who fight for their own and others’ rights. I used to only see the problems and not know how to fix them. Now we have learned about our rights and where to go for help if we are treated badly, like the police and the Ministry of Education. We used to be afraid of voicing our opinions. But the World’s Children’s Prize took away our fear. Suddenly we felt strong enough to face all those who violate our rights.
Hate the ambassadors
“Since the day we Child Rights Ambassadors returned from our training to set up the WCP Program at school, the teachers and headteacher have been afraid of us. They began to hate the World’s Children’s Prize. They don’t want us to teach other girls and boys about our rights, because they want to continue exploiting us. Because if we learn that what they are doing violates our rights and learn who to contact for help, that makes it much harder for them to continue with it.
“They want us girls to remain ignorant. But that will never happen now that we have gained this knowledge. And we have had enough!
“Today we had our Global Vote at school, but the headteacher and many of the other teachers have opposed and sabotaged our vote right from the start. Several of the teachers didn’t let their students read The Globe. Not a single teacher came to the Global Vote today. It’s quite clear that the school is totally against the idea of us learning about the most important thing we have – our rights.
“The adults opposed us in every way, but for us it was incredibly important to hold our Global Vote and celebrate the rights of the child at school. Because we know that what the headteacher and other teachers are doing is part of the child sex trade. They use their power to get what they want.
“We are not going to stop telling people about girls’ rights until we have put a stop to all the abuse at our school and all other schools!”
Maria Rosa, 17, WCP Child Rights Ambassador, Namaacha Secondary School, Mozambique