Democracy in South Africa came with a growing recognition of children’s rights and the establishment of high-level structures to meet government’s responsibilities. Section 28 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution states that “every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, health care and social services, as well as the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation”.
Keeping children safe takes leadership, accountability and culture change. It means putting their rights, safety and dignity at the heart of every decision.
South Africans would agree with all of these statements and yet –
On the 15th January, the schools in South Africa began the new school year. New uniforms, new books, new classes, new teachers and for some children new schools and new friends. All were ready for the 2020 school year.
But, since that day five weeks ago, fifteen pupils in the Gauteng Province have lost their lives.
The first boy died on the first day of the new term. Enock Mpianzi, 13, was swept away in the Crocodile River while attending a Grade 8 orientation camp being held at a lodge.
He was last seen when a makeshift raft he and other boys were on overturned in the river, just hours after arriving at the camp. None of the adults on duty insisted on the boys wearing life jackets. His body was discovered two days later after a search, which was started the day after the drowning.
The school’s Principal has been suspended pending the investigation into the matter.
On the same day a Grade 7 pupil, Keamohetswe Shaun Sebeko, 13, had been found drowned in the hostel swimming pool at his school. Seboko’s family believe that there may have been an element of bullying involved in his death after marks were found on his body.
On January 22nd, the body of a Grade 9 pupil, Laticia Princes Jansen, 15, was found in the bushes. She had been raped, stabbed and burnt to death.
Jansen and some of her peers had allegedly been left behind by the school’s transport earlier that day and had walked home. After her death, the Principal of the school was moved to another post immediately. And the list goes on. Two died in mysterious circumstances after feeling unwell when they returned from school. Another drank poison after coming home from school.
One boy died after the goal post fell on him while he was waiting for his transport.
Then there have been incidents of violence. A Grade 12 pupil stabbed a Grade 8 pupil to death. A girl jumped from a moving vehicle after being assaulted by other children on the bus.
The road accidents in South Africa are responsible for deaths every day, so it is not surprising to find that two of the children were killed when the minibus they were travelling in was involved in an accident.
A very sad incident involved a Grade 6 pupil who died after she was hit by a car driven by a teacher from another school.
All children in South Africa deserve to thrive in a safe environment, free from violence. Yet, all these children have died in violent circumstances. And what of the many who did not die, but have been injured, traumatised, terrified?
Those who should be watching out for them, guarding them, protecting them just do not take their responsibility seriously. What will it take to change their behaviour?
We pray for the grieving families and friends of these young people.
Colleen Wilkinson rsm
South African Province