TOGO – December 1 2022

SOS Children’s Villages’s programme fighting gender-based violence keeps girls in school in rural Togo

Adjoua* was only 16 when she was sexually assaulted by a classmate and became pregnant. Her mum’s farming revenues could barely meet the needs of the family at the time.

Atakpamè, in central Togo, is a region of farmers. Its agricultural landscape is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and as seasons have started to shift, harvesting time is becoming unpredictable and agricultural productivity is reducing.

This results in higher unemployment in the region (6,9%, 2016, INSED), and an increase in gender-based violence, sexual abuse, alcoholism and migration to neighbouring countries.

School dropout

Adjoua’s immediate reaction after what happened was to abandon school. “I felt embarrassed and ashamed, I did not want my classmates to see me pregnant.”

Data collected by SOS Children’s Villages in Atakpamè show that early pregnancies leading to school dropout are not a rare phenomenon. Throughout the school year 2021-2022, 363 early pregnancies were registered in secondary education facilities in the region, and 163 of them led to school dropout.

The project

In 2020, SOS Children’s Villages’s has launched the “Fighting Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children” project in the Atakpamè region. So far, the project has provided free medical and psychological care to over 250 girls aged between 11 and 22, and it has led sensitization sessions with students across numerous primary and secondary schools. The project has also developed educational radio programmes broadcasted on local radio stations, where topics such as sexual abuse and sexual education are addressed and discussed by key guest speakers.

Afevi Kodzogan, SOS Children’s Villages project coordinator, says that sensitizing and informing communities on the long lasting damages of sexual abuse is pivotal. “This project informs people and communities on what victims of sexual exploitation have to endure, and this helps reduce the stigma, while also helping them build back their confidence and hope for life.”

At the community level, the project supports the setting up of child protection committees, chaired by a president and two “supernagan” (Maternal auntie, in Togo’s Mina language), who are powerful female figures appointed by the community for the community, to whom girls can refer for any personal matter.

Saving Education

Advised by the community leaders and the supernagan, Adjoua eventually decided not to leave school. “Now I feel better, and I would like that many other girls like me could receive help and support. I am very thankful. I can look after myself now and I can go to school,” she says.

Adjoua’s school fees, uniforms and school material costs, health and medical expenses during and after pregnancy have been covered by SOS Children’s Villages since she joined the project two years ago.

“If I had left school, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Right now I would not be in school, I would be working in the fields,” she concludes

Text and photos by Jessica Tradati