Govt failing disabled children - human rights bodies

2015-08-18 21:07

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Johannesburg - Thousands of disabled children were losing out on a proper education because the government was not implementing its own inclusive schooling policy, two human rights organisations said on Tuesday.

''Education is both a human right and an indispensable means of realising other human rights,'' said advocate Jospeh Malatji, disability rights commissioner at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

''Through education, marginalised children and adults can lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully in the community,'' he said.

Malatji was speaking at the release of a report by Human Rights Watch [HRW], Complicit in Exclusion.

The government had made an effort to provide for children with disabilities, but many were getting a raw deal, he said.

In the report, researchers found that it cost more to send children with disabilities to school than it did to send those without disabilities.

Dropping out of school

While the government had a policy of no-fee schooling - taken up by 60% of the country's pupils - there weren't any public special schools which were ''no-fee'' schools, said the report.

The report went on to say that for poor families, the extra costs were unattainable. Along with other obstacles, this lead to many disabled children dropping out of school.

On top of fees, parents of disabled children had to fork out for transport to schools that were far away from home due to a lack of special textbooks and accessibility, among other things.

In some cases, the report said, parents had to pay private drivers to get their children to a school 30km away.

If children were accepted at mainstream schools, parents were often asked to pay for an assistant.

HRW said during its research it met children who travelled up to 100km to get to the nearest school that would accommodate them. None of the children interviewed received government support for the special school, nor financial subsidies to cover transport costs.

'Fee-based system discriminates'

Many boarding schools would only take children who were physically disabled.

One school, the Albertina Sisulu Resource Centre in Soweto had a barter arrangement with parents who couldn't pay the full amount for fees and transport. The parent could come twice a week to help supervise sports, or clean or help at the school.

HRW pointed out that even low fees charged at informal centres for disabled children were difficult for unemployed parents who were already living on their child's care dependency grants.

One mother interviewed for the research, said she was already paying R400 a month for children's nappies for her 11-year-old disabled son.

She had to prepare special food to cater to his food allergies, because he couldn't eat the food the school provided. Her social grant did not cover this and her husband did not help financially. 

HRW said, although government policy on school fee exemptions stated that children who were beneficiaries of grants were automatically exempt from paying school fees, six parents of disabled children interviewed said they paid school fees.

''In addition to breaching the government's international obligation to guarantee primary education free of charge for all children, the current fee-based system particularly discriminates against children with disabilities who attend public special schools,'' HRW said.

The report noted that all these expenses were on top of the cost of school uniforms.

Three types of schooling

HRW explained that according to Education White Paper 6: Special Needs Education there were three types of schooling in South Africa:

- Mainstream, which accommodated children with mild to moderate disabilities who needed limited support. In 2013, 76 993 pupils with disabilities were registered at 3 884 mainstream schools.

- Full Service is a new form of "neighbourhood" mainstream schools which would be adapted or built to accommodate children with disabilities and provide specialised services and attention in a mainstream environment. Government policy was to have at least one full-service school in each district. In 2014, 793 schools were designated full service with 24 724 pupils with special needs.

- Special schools were meant to accommodate children who needed high levels of support. Government policy was that some also become "resource centres" to help full service schools. In 2014, 117 477 pupils out of 231 521 enrolled in public schools, were enrolled in 453 special schools.


HRW also found that schools were "arbitrarily" deciding by themselves whether to accommodate students with particular needs and children with intellectual or multiple disabilities, autism or fetal alcohol syndrome were "particularly disadvantaged".

To address these issues, HRW's recommendations include:

- The government must make its inclusive education policy legally binding;

- Ensure that public special schools are "no-fee" schools;

- Prohibit ordinary schools from imposing financial conditions on children with disabilities that children without disabilities would not incur;

-  The government should shift investments to facilitate children moving from special to mainstream schools where teachers were adequately trained and equipped;

- Gazette compulsory school-going ages for children with disabilities, accommodating late starters;

- Finalise and publish the National Learners Transport Policy guaranteeing inclusion and subsidised transport for students with disabilities;

- Urgently set up a centralised register of waiting lists and improve data collection of out-of-school children.

Read more on:    hrw  |  sahrc  |  johannesburg  |  education  |  human rights
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