Private hostels

2008-04-21 00:00

Reports of unregulated and ill-managed boarding houses for school children operating in the capital are disturbing. Pietermaritzburg has long been an educational centre, having some of the oldest schools in the region, the first teacher training college and the first university college. Given the need felt by rural families to give their children a sound education, boarding schools have became the norm, although many pupils lodge privately.

Historically, those have been the children of relatively well-off parents, able to afford proper accommodation and care for their offspring. Circumstances have now changed. Rural families still want to give their children the best possible education, and the perception persists that schools in Pietermaritzburg provide this, but these families are predominantly not wealthy. The children are enrolled at day schools and lodged in private boarding houses, and their parents lack the resources, or are too far away, to monitor what goes on.

There are reports of children crowded into inadequate sleeping quarters in unregistered boarding houses, badly and insufficiently fed, and with insanitary toilet and washing facilities, no quiet place for study and a general lack of proper supervision and care. These children are of all ages and both genders, and often there is no assurance that they have separate rooms. Not all are like this, but in many instances money-grabbing landlords are clearly exploiting a situation in which the children and their parents cannot, or dare not, complain.

The situation cries out for intervention by one or other responsible authority, be it Child Welfare, the Education Department or the municipality. Perhaps the current publicity may prompt some action, but the fact that the dangerous and illegal transporting of pupils in enclosed bakkies still goes on does not encourage optimism. Is this perhaps yet another instance where the ideals of the Constitution and the law simply do not match the realities on the ground, and where something irregular has to be tolerated because there actually is no viable alternative or because the authorities lack the capacity or the will to act?

Surely not. The situation is as straightforward as it is reprehensible. Disadvantaged families are placing their children in the care of others in the hope of giving them a decent start in life, and these supposed caregivers are neglecting the children and exploiting the situation for their own enrichment. Society cannot condone this. It has a special responsibility towards its children. The community must insist that the authorities take action to enforce their own regulations.

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