Pub­lic trans­port prov­ing to be an ob­sta­cle to ed­u­ca­tion

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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