Awareness of Pubertal Body Changes
The main view in this study was that girls from rural schools were aware of the body changes in boys and amongst themselves compared to those from urban schools. On the other hand, girls expressed more body changes in boys than amongst themselves. Unlike girls from urban schools, girls from rural schools revealed that girls are attracted to boys, boys lure girls into sex, boys impregnate girls, boys grow beards, indecent dressing etc.
According to our findings, more girls from rural schools revealed to have experienced pubertal body changes than those from urban schools. Whereas a number of FGDs conducted in rural schools revealed that girls experience attraction to opposite sex, lack of concentration in class, lack of respect for adults and use of herbs to kill the smell, a few girls’ FGDs conducted in urban schools only reported the experience of wet dreams among boys, attraction to opposite sex and lack of concentration in class.
“Girls starting getting attracted to boys […] they spend a lot of time thinking about boys, even change their walking styles”, (Girls’ FGD-Rural).
“I know that girls can get pregnant if they sleep with boys […] girls develop breasts and start having menstruations […]”, (Girls’ FGD-Rural).
Asked whether they know changes that occur in their bodies as they grow up, boys that participated in our study indicated that they were aware of the body changes among themselves and their counterparts. Unlike their counterparts, boys who participated in five FGDs from urban schools were more aware of body changes in girls and amongst themselves compared to those who participated in four FGDs from rural schools. Generally, many boys from urban areas were aware of the development of deep voice, indecent dressing, wet dreams, and growth of pubic hair/armpit hair among others. However, boys from urban schools were aware of a few body changes of which those from rural areas were not aware of and these included change in voice, change in walking and bad smell. But boys from rural areas were aware of ringworms, human beings who have sex with animals, growth of beards, ability to marry and conceive and indecent dressing and these were not known to boys from urban schools. Irrespective of one’s sex and location of the school, the development of breasts was known to almost all of our study participants.
Generally, most of the boys that participated in our FGDs carried out in urban schools reported to have experienced body changes than boys in rural schools. Boys in urban areas revealed to have experienced changes in their voices, itching of pubic hair, wet dreams, attraction to opposite sex, “big” feeling/feeling that you are in charge, lack of concentration in class, lack of respect for adults and use of herbs to kill the bad smell. Both boys and girls from rural and urban schools concurred that they experience attraction to opposite sex.
“[...] boys start getting wet dreams [...]; wake up in the morning to find shorts wet; but we do not know where the water that wets shorts comes from” (Boys’ FGD-Urban).
“I know that girls get attracted to boys and some run away from home to go and get married [...] Some girls get hysteria because of their love for boys”, (Boys’ FGD-Rural).
Most girls from rural schools reported to have faced a number of pubertal-related challenges compared to those from urban schools. Of the five girls’ FGDs conducted in rural schools, pubertal-related challenges faced included: - lack of shavers, pain while shaving their private parts, rape, bad boy-girl relationships, unwanted early pregnancies, HIV and other STIs, lack of money to buy pads, painful and irregular menstruation periods, and lack of concentration while in menstruation. A few of the girls that participated in five FGDs that were conducted in urban schools revealed to be faced by rape, bad girl-boy relationships, struggle for boyfriends, love for money, bad body odour, lack of money to buy enough pads, painful and irregular periods and lack of concentration while in periods. Girls from both rural and urban schools who were not in position to buy enough pads reported an alternative of cloth. Girls in rural and urban schools were trying to handle painful menstruation by use of herbs or pain killers.
“Sugar daddies look at our breasts and start looking at us with enticing eyes; they begin disturbing us with unwanted pregnancies […]”, (Girls’ FGD-Rural).
“[...]I do not pay attention in class due to pain just before my periods or during my periods; people can know that I am in periods […]”, (Girls’ FGD-Rural).
“We sometimes resort to using pieces of cloth […] we do not use pads because we cannot afford to buy them all the time […]”, (Girls’ FGD-Rural).
“We have boyfriends and we have sex, they give us money and we eat it [...] some girls in my class have been fighting for such boys”, (Girls’ FGD-Urban).
Pubertal-related challenges that were faced by boys in urban schools were more compared to those faced by boys in rural schools. Boys in five FGDs that were conducted in urban schools revealed a number of challenges including lack of shavers, feeling pain while shaving, lack of saloons for pubic hair, change in height, raping girls, bad boy-girl relationships, peer pressure, unwanted pregnancies, HIV/STIs, limited infrastructure, voice changes, and bad body odour. A few boys in one urban school wondered why there are no saloons for shaving private parts. The general consensus was that they would instead visit such saloons. Boys that participated in four FGDs which were conducted in rural schools reported to be faced with pain while shaving their private parts, impregnating young girls, HIV/STIs, casual work, and changes in their voices. Because of the pain they go through, a number of boys seemed to have shunned the habit of shaving their private parts. Boys from only rural schools revealed that they engage in casual work for purposes of earning money to manage pubertal changes. Boys work as casual labourers at construction sites, carry luggage in markets, work in sugar cane plantations etc. Largely, boys from both rural and urban schools reported that their feelings for girls force them to initiate love relationships with them. Boys tell girls how they love them especially when they are called to give a hand e.g solving a mathematical problem. However, boys reported that they fear to make them pregnant. In general, boys from both rural and urban schools were not comfortable with the changes in their voices
“I have arm pit hair [...] they make me sweat; It also causes a bad smell” [...] I fear sitting close to other people because they will not like the smell”, (Boys’ FGD- Rural).
“We also have a problem of buying blades for shaving; in most cases we have no money for buying them but teachers insist that we have to shave [...]”, (Boys’ FGD-Rural).
“But even when we buy razor blades, it is very painful. Sometimes I cut myself accidentally when shaving and I believe it is a problem because it is not easy to see your private parts when shaving [...]”, (Boys’ FGD-Rural).
The girls ask for help in drawing maps for them, help with mathematics [...] as we help, we get attracted to them and we cannot avoid falling in love”, (Boys’ FGD-Rural).
Opportunities for Navigating through Pubertal-related Challenges
Pubertal Information and Teacher-Child Communication
Boys and girls navigated through pubertal-related challenges with the help of readily available pubertal information. Asked about how they got to know their body changes, girls from both rural and urban schools revealed that they were getting pubertal-related information from their teachers. Senior man/woman teachers availed pubertal information through their advice to pupils on how to manage their body changes. Unlike girls in urban schools, girls in rural schools revealed that their teachers advised them on their personal hygiene. Besides girls from one FGD conducted in a rural school reported that their teachers advised them on how to behave well while managing their body changes. Teachers were perceived to be supportive in regard to enriching children with pubertal-related information. Girls from both rural and urban schools further reported that they received pubertal information from fellow girls.
“The boys and girls are put in separate groups […] girls are taught by the senior women teachers and the boys are taught by senior men teachers […]”, (Girls’ FGD-Rural).
“I saw a girl whose school uniform had blood spots […] I asked other girls and I was told that she was in her menstruation periods”, (Girls’ FGD-Urban).
Boys in urban schools were availed with pubertal-related information more than those in rural schools. Boys from four FGDs (urban) and one FGD (rural) revealed that they get opportunities to know their body changes through their teachers’ advise. Findings from three FGDs (urban) and one FGD (rural) indicated that boys are also advised by teachers on how to manage their body changes. Boys and girls in both rural and urban schools confirmed that they have an opportunity to ask their teachers questions related to body changes. Teachers were believed to be performing a good job of enlightening pupils about their personal hygiene as illustrated by the following extract: -
“Teachers have advised us to use shaving sticks and not mere razor blades in order to avoid body itching [...]”, (Boys’ FGD-Urban).
Findings from our study revealed that girls from both rural and urban schools were receiving pubertal-related advice from their parents and other close relatives. On the other hand, other girls perceived their parents to be uncooperative, unapproachable when it comes to communicating about body changes.
“I talk to my mother and my older sister because I know that they have gone through the same experiences [...]”, (Girls’ FGD-Urban).
A good number of boys from three FGDs (urban) and one FGD (rural) indicated that they have an opportunity of communicating with their parents. They are advised by their parents and close relatives. Although boys and girls from both rural and urban schools believed that their parents were not sharing information about body changes, not willing to talk about body changes, the general consensus was on parental advice.
“[…] my parents tell me about the changes in behavior and warn me never to behave in the same way, even my grandmother talked to me [...]”, (Boys’ FGD-Urban).
When asked about other opportunities of getting pubertal related information, both boys and girls from rural and urban schools indicated friends as the best other source of information compared to Radios, Televisions, newspapers (Straight talk), Health workers, Sunday school etc;
“We talk about body changes with friends; we observe changes in boys and girls […]; I have seen my pubic hair […], my voice has changed too”, (Boys’ FGD-Urban).
“We got to know about these changes by observing the way other boys look and behave; we also talk about these changes with our friends in our groups”, (Boys’ FGD-Rural).
School Support System
Findings from six girls’ FGDs conducted in both rural and urban schools confirmed support extended to children by their senior man/woman teachers. Few girls from urban schools reported to have received support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Straight Talk Foundation.
Boys from both rural and urban schools appreciated support given to them by NGOs. Boys from an urban school only reported support from school clubs and churches. Children in schools utilize school clubs to share information about their body changes. A well-established school support system to manage body changes among children is believed to be equipped with pads, spare uniform in case of blood stain, pain killers, information on body changes etc.
School Protection Mechanisms
Girls from rural schools reported a number of protection mechanisms compared to those from urban schools who were not in position to cite any. Girls who participated in one FGD (rural school) recognized the role of prefects. When a pupil has pubertal-related challenges, a prefect is in position to report such cases to teachers for action. Other girls from another FGD conducted in a rural school still revealed that there is limited interaction between boys and girls. A few girls from urban schools indicated that school rules and regulations act as a measure to tame pupils’ behaviour while managing their body changes.
“Some prefects act like office massagers to administration; they deliver our issues to administration [...], sometimes, we are helped by these prefects”, (Girls’ FGD-Rural).
“The school rules do not allow us to couple with boys [...] if found with men outside the school gate, you are automatically disqualified [...]”, (Girls’ FGD-Urban).
According to the boys who participated in our FGDs from both rural and urban schools, keeping children busy with chores is a great occasion when it comes to managing body changes. A few of the boys from an urban school reported the availability of separated bathrooms for big and small boys. Boys in one of the FGDs conducted in a rural school only revealed that school prefects help them to report some of their pubertal related challenges to teachers. Still, boys from one FGD conducted in a rural school reported that girls and boys do not share rooms (such as bathrooms, resting rooms etc).
Knowledge of Children’s Rights and Responsibilities
Both boys and girls in only urban schools demonstrated to be knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities. Majority of the boys reported to be knowing their right to education followed by their right to health.
“[...], by the way, I know my parents are supposed to educate me until I grow up; it is my right to go school irrespective of my background”, (Boys’ FGD-Urban).
Asked about their sources of knowledge on children rights, both boys and girls from only urban schools looked at their teachers as their best source. The other sources of knowledge on rights reported were fellow children and parents.
“Our teachers have been telling us about these things of rights for us to be educated, to be given good healthcare [...]”, (Girls’ FGD-Urban).