Schools fail SA when they put our kids at risk

Sunday Times - - Opinion -

At­tacks on chil­dren at school are, sadly, all too com­mon in SA. It seems that ev­ery week a new and dis­turb­ing case hits the head­lines. Pupils are be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted — by staff and other chil­dren — in a place where they should feel pro­tected and nur­tured. The lat­est in­ci­dent, re­ported in the Sun­day Times to­day, high­lights such shock­ing negligence by au­thor­i­ties that it is dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend how these events could have un­folded. The case is dis­turb­ing for many rea­sons. First, a teacher quizzes the vic­tim, aged just 10, and the al­leged per­pe­tra­tor, aged 11, to­gether in a class­room. So much for dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the in­ci­dent. She also de­cides to video the in­ter­view, which shows her chastis­ing the upset girl. Then she sends the video to other peo­ple, and it goes vi­ral. So much for the vic­tim’s pri­vacy. On top of this, the school doesn’t re­port the in­ci­dent to the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment or po­lice. It also takes no ac­tion against the teacher or the boy.

But per­haps the big­gest shock is the com­ment made by the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment’s spokesper­son, Eli­jah Mh­langa, who says the depart­ment has not taken any ac­tion be­cause it is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the in­ci­dent was rape or con­sen­sual sex be­tween mi­nors. But the law is clear: “A male or fe­male per­son un­der the age of 12 years is in­ca­pable of con­sent­ing to a sex­ual act.”

To­mor­row, SA’s 20th an­nual 16 days of ac­tivism for no vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren comes to a close. But if Mh­langa’s com­ment is any­thing to go by, SA has not learnt much from it. There is clearly still much ig­no­rance re­gard­ing rape, es­pe­cially when it in­volves mi­nors. To add in­sult to in­jury, the girl’s mother says po­lice have not yet con­tacted her to get her daugh­ter’s ver­sion of events, de­spite po­lice telling the Sun­day Times the docket would be for­warded to pros­e­cu­tors next week for a de­ci­sion on whether to pros­e­cute.

While the main vil­lains in this tragic tale have yet to face any con­se­quences for their ac­tions, a lit­tle girl’s life has changed for­ever. She has been pulled out of her school and moved to a new town, and will have to nav­i­gate the rest of her life as one of SA’s thou­sands of rape sur­vivors.

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