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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Report reveals sexual abuse and bullying of learners at special-needs schools

22 November 2018

THE “unacceptably high” staff vacancy rate at special-needs schools and the seeming unwillingness by the authorities to address the problem pose a danger to the pupils.
As a result some abuses won’t be identified or the scourge decreased at the schools’ hostels owing to this dire staff shortage.
These damning findings were made by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in a newly released report titled “The Management of and Rights of Learners at Special-Needs Schools”.
This is the result of an investigation across seven schools in as many provinces. The commission launched its investigation following a complaint by the University of Pretoria-based Centre for Child Law (CCL).
The centre had itself received complaints about abuse of hostel pupils at special-needs schools by teachers.
Cases of abuse, including sexual and verbal abuse and bullying are confirmed in the report. The SAHRC lamented the staff shortages as a contributor to incidents of abuse.
Staff shortages cut across all departments in the schools, including teachers, psychologists and support staff, the commission found.
“The lack of a full staff complement is a serious risk for these schools, particularly in a medical emergency,” the report said. “Overall, the number of available staff decreases each year, while the number of learners increases.
“This is particularly problematic at night, when there is a limited number of staff members to assist with the management of the hostel. And one staff member could be responsible for between 40 to 80 learners at a time,” the report said.
Staff shortages at special-needs schools have already claimed lives in recent years. In August 2014, three pupils died in a fire in North West.
“The investigation further found that on the night of the incident, there were no educators on duty and that the hostel rooms were locked from the outside,” the commission recalled.
In 2010, four pupils died in a fire at a special-needs school for the blind, also in North West. In 2013, a child drowned in a pool at the same school.
“The low number of support staff, particularly at hostels, and the failure to ensure that key professionals are on site at these schools constitute major concerns,” the report pointed out.
One principal told the commission that in cases of emergency the school was required to call an ambulance based over 40km away.
“In the case of a serious health emergency, a child’s life could be at risk,” the principal said.
The availability of more psychologists could help uncover all the abuses at the schools, the report suggested.
“All the respondents believed that the regular services of a trained psychologist would assist the learners and staff by decreasing abuse, identifying cases of abuse and assisting learners with developmental and other issues.
Also, “the absence of specialist staff such as healthcare workers is extremely concerning, particularly in an environment where specialised healthcare services are required”.
The commission said the ongoing issues with the appointment of teachers to vacant posts, “which constitute a more significant challenge in these schools due to the special needs of the learners”, could be eliminated
A meeting was being scheduled between the SAHRC and the National Department of Basic Education before the end of the financial year.
The CCL has urged the government to attend to the problems as a matter of urgency.
“The centre will use this report for advocacy activities in order to enhance the rights of children with disabilities,” it said.

Source: IOL

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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