Public transport proving to be an obstacle to education
Pupils should be focusing on their schoolwork, not worrying about their personal safety
EVERY day thousands of children board public transport to go to school. For many, the journey is dangerous because of the unsafe driving habits of drivers or the unroadworthiness of their vehicles. For passengers, it’s unsafe because they could be targeted by passengers or drivers who are sexual predators.
This is so prevalent that the famed Our Perfect Wedding featured the “romance” of a 28-year-old taxi driver whose bride had been a 14-year-old pupil when they met. The groom told presenters how he targeted young girls before he met his bride, who fought for his affection.
The programme, shown during the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign, sparked outrage on social media.
Viewers were particularly angry that the episode normalised the rape culture.
Statistics South Africa’s 2013 National Household Travel Survey showed that more than double the number of schoolchildren catch taxis to school than buses.
The Department of Transport, in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education, has a mandate to ensure transport is provided for pupils attending grades R to 12 who live more than 3km from the nearest school. But the reality is that many parents end up providing transport for their children.
About 8.5 million children walk to school. Only 20% of schoolchildren nationally use public transport. Most of these children – about 1.5 million – use taxis. A further 650 000 travel by bus, while 70 000 use trains, according to the survey.
Equal Education has highlighted public transport as a serious obstacle to children’s education. They attributed the high incidence of late-coming, absenteeism and pupils dropping out of school to a lack of transport. It was difficult to provide extra lessons after school when pupils had to make a long journey home.
Young people are scared of public transport. A 2013 survey by Pondering Panda showed that 50% of the young people surveyed felt they were “not very” or “not at all” safe from attacks or accidents while using public transport, while 47% felt “very” or “fairly safe”.
Respondents singled out taxis as the most dangerous form of public transport, with 56% saying they had the highest risk, while 20% said trains were the most unsafe and 18% said buses were.
The cellphone survey was conducted among people aged between 13 and 34. What should be done? Pupils should be able to travel to and from school without fear in a safe and efficient manner. Girls should not be exposed to sexual predators, nor should they have to limit where and when they travel. We should not teach our girls to grow up in fear. Soul City Institute for Social Justice is calling for an urgent and effective government response for safer transport commuting for women and girls.
The recent spate of attacks on women – visible signs of a culture of gender-based violence – have highlighted the need to take taxi safety seriously.
We must ensure our girls are safe getting to the taxi rank, at the taxi rank and when they alight at their destinations. We must speak out and protect all children – not turn a blind eye when someone else’s child is being targeted.
Our public transport spaces must be seen as safe zones for our children. Girls should not have to deal with jeers, stares, verbal or physical abuse.
The Institute for Social Justice is working to ensure such behaviour is prevented and when it does occur, women know where to report it, and have access to swift justice through active and responsive policing.
We are working with stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce gender-based violence in our public transport system. This includes concrete interventions such as a national safe taxi charter for the taxi industry that outlines concrete steps.
We must do so by bringing together all stakeholders including community leaders, schools, civil society, education officials, the Department of Transport, police and community safety, and the taxi industry.
We cannot say our children are the future and that access to education will help them embrace that future if we don’t provide the means for them to travel to and from schools in a safe environment.
Our schoolchildren shouldn’t have to worry about their safety when they should be focusing on their schoolwork.
Dealing with the critical issue of safety in public transport will ensure that our schoolchildren are able to travel to and from school in an environment that is conducive to learning. We all have an obligation to make that happen.