Boarding homes illegal, inadequate

2008-05-20 00:00

“The current situation is conducive to child exploitation. The landlords obviously are preoccupied with making fortunes; for example, if fees are R1 000 a month with 100 children, income is R100 000 per month. Fees are unreasonably high considering the services offered.”

This is just one of the findings of a report on local boarding houses prepared by the KwaZulu-Natal Social Development Department.

They said in one case at Northdale “a 10-year-old boy had sores on the head that seemed unattended to”, and at one in Boom Street the children were made to sleep in a bedroom with a broken door. The names of the boarding houses are known to The Witness.

When asked for comment, the owner of the Boom Street boarding house told The Witness she is closing it down at the end of the month anyway as she herself has been unhappy with conditions there.

“My landlord refused to assist with renovations,” she said.

The owner of the boarding house in Northdale said that the child mentioned had been dropped off at the boarding house by his aunt who was unable to fetch him immediately when she raised concerns with her.

“The department came to the boarding house when I wasn’t there and did not bother to get my side of the story.”

She said the child is an orphan and was not paying fees, and is still at home now as the sores had not yet healed. “The department gave us until June 5 to get things in order.”

The owners of the boarding houses named in the report are both members of the newly-formed Sizanani Boarding Association of boarding house owners (see side bar).

The Witness reported that most of the children boarding in the houses come from the Eastern Cape in order to attend local schools or colleges. Some come from other areas in the province. The relevant authorities were not addressing the plight of the children who live in poor conditions in many boarding houses, and seemed unaware of it.

The report states that “the main issue about these boarding houses is that almost all operate illegally. They are not registered with relevant authorities in terms of the municipal by-laws, hence a laissez-faire kind of attitude on the part of the landlords.”

The report says that in most cases, “the needs of the child are poorly met”.

It states that the number of children accommodated varies from 12 to 80 and their ages range from five to 24. In one place, social workers found a two-year-old who lives locally, but who boards during the week. It describes “grossly overcrowded” sleeping facilities and lack of living space, untidy bedrooms and lack of wardrobes, “neglected and untidy yards,” inadequate bathroom and laundry facilities, and meals that are not balanced or adequate.

It also says there are mostly no entertainment or recreational facilities, “poor health facilities, poor facilities for homework and no effective supervision.

“[The] priority of these children is education, but they are being deprived of a stimulating environment and support to achieve this.”

The report does note, however, that there are some adequate boarding houses, or houses where areas of care are acceptable, for example, some cases “where the environment is stimulating”, one where there are study facilities, “a very few where the children are taken out for excursions once in a while” and a few places where “a contact/code of conduct is available, signed by parents”.

According to department spokesman, Mandla Ngema, the department will “call a meeting of relevant stakeholders, including the MEC and other higher authorities, to plan a strategy in response to this report.”

The Witness approached the Msunduzi Municipality for comment, but nothing had been received by the time of going to press.

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