The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has said there has been a “rise in incidents of corporal punishment in schools across the country” after it has received reports of the physical and verbal abuse of learners in at least seven Mpumalanga schools.
According to SAHRC Research and Advocacy Officer Margaret Salila, the commission is aware of reports of alleged corporal punishment at seven Mpumalanga schools including Seme Secondary School, Amersfoort Primary School and Nalithuba Secondary School.
Slapped with an open hand
“Corporal punishment includes verbal emotional and physical abuse, as they are beaten daily for anything with pipes and sticks,” said Salila at a recent roundtable held in Department of Education offices in Mpumalanga’s Gert Sibande District.
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“A boy at Leandra Laerskool was allegedly slapped with an open hand by a teacher and refused to go back to school as the teacher was no longer attending to his school work.”
The commission has urged affected families to report alleged abuses. Meanwhile, Salila described schools’ mixed reactions to allegations.
“MD Coovadia Combined School in Bethal requested the assistance of the Centre for Child Law to address the continued occurrences of corporal punishment, verbal and emotional abuse in this school,” Salila explained. “The corporal punishment reported included the use of implements such as wooden planks, rulers and board dusters.”
“Learners at Nelspruit Primary School are subjected to corporal punishment and it is mostly administered to black learners,” Salila alleged. “The school has failed or refused to curb corporal punishment...”
Corporal punishment unconstitutional
Section 28 of the Bill or Rights protects children from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation. The Constitutional Court affirmed these rights in a number of cases, including a 1995 case in which it declared corporal punishment unconstitutional.
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“In 1996 corporal punishment was stopped in schools, but teachers are still beating us like animals,” said a learner from Cebisa Secondary School in Ermelo, Mpumalanga. The learner asked not to be named for fear of victimisation. “Teachers claim that their … punishments are out of unconditional love, but can’t you see that your ways are always leaving some of us with bruises and some have died?”
Meanwhile, some teachers have said the problem exposes a need for better parenting at home.
According to Sipho Sithole from the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) Secunda cluster, SAPS is finding it easier to deal with cases of alleged corporal punishment than it is with cases in which children assault children.
“The are some cases like abused learners that we refer to doctors and social workers and after that we investigate,” said Sithole, who added that police felt their powers were rather limited in cases where one child had abused another.
“These challenges are cases where learners are violating other learners,” he explained. “Like the case that happened in Secunda of a nine-year-old child accused of assaulting a seven-year-old. There was no arrest because the accused was a minor.”
The Mpumalanga Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment.
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Image: Learners from Nelspruit Primary School carry the school’s banner from Nelspruit Post