A task group set up by the department of education to investigate sexual abuse in schools reveals that “sexual abuse has been as much a constant feature of South African schools as it has been of society in general. Many of our schools have become violent and unsafe environments, particularly for the girl-child”.
Of all the social ills that South Africa is grappling with, the failure to protect children’s basic human rights betrays Nelson Mandela’s legacy the most. As the revered leader declared, “Our children are our greatest treasure...those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”
Take Action: Stop The Violence in South African Schools
In an effort to promote safer schools, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund - through the support of the Nedbank Affinity Programme - works to safeguard children’s safety and well-being. Since its inception in 2005, Nedbank Children’s Affinity has donated more than R82 million to the Fund to support various initiatives that protect and nurture those who were closest to Tata Madiba’s heart.
Initiatives include the Child Safety and Protection programme. The programme supports child safety through interventions and partnerships that are aimed at preventing and eliminating violence, including providing emotional support and facilitating justice for survivors of violence.
The magnitude of child abuse in schools
South African children spend between 195 and 200 days in schools every year. This makes schools their primary environment outside of their homes. As a condition of children’s basic human rights, advocates argue that schools should foster an inclusive learning environment free from violence and other dehumanising experiences.
In its 2020 strategy report, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund notes, “Reports from implementing partners suggest that schools are one of the most unsafe places for children. An alarming fact is that, increasingly, younger people are becoming perpetrators of violence.”
A report compiled by Deloitte on behalf of the Fund states that 495,540 cases of crimes were reported between 2012 and 2013, and that 50,688 children were victims of violent crimes. Of these cases, 51% experienced sexual abuse, 25% experienced common assault, and 21% experienced assault with grievous bodily harm.
“In the case of sexual abuse, 1 out of 9 cases get reported. The severity of sexual abuse is a lot higher than reported,” the report said, “Other forms of physical abuse are most common towards children below the age of 14, in rural areas, among disabled children and in low income communities.”
Victimised by other children
Findings from a baseline survey conducted in three schools in Alexandra township in Gauteng, confirmed the Fund’s existing literature that bullying is one of the predominant forms of abuse in schools and communities.
Young people aged between 13 and 15 years have been identified as the main victims, while the main forms of bullying are physical violence and taking money and lunch boxes from other learners. The findings also showed female learners are most likely to report abuse, while perpetrators of sexual abuse were mostly men and boys.
Creating safe schools
The Child Safety and Protection programme is implemented in schools to create a safe environment. The programme is currently operational in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Western Cape and Limpopo provinces. These provinces are reported to have high incidences of corporal punishment, sexual abuse, and bullying.
Through the Sexual Violence in Schools in South Africa (SeVISSA) project, girls are empowered to deal with sexual violence. The project was launched in Limpopo, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, and Western Cape in 2014.
A nurturing environment is critical in ensuring that all children grow up to be responsible adults, especially when conditions and other life circumstances are less traumatic.
By assessing safety features in schools, the Child Safety and Protection programme ensures that schools have safety policies to deal with violence, bullying, sexual abuse, and corporal punishment.
The programme equips educators with the skills required to deal with violence and to support victims. Interventions that are aimed at learners include building capacity to report on violence and creating agents of change by shunning bullying.
Experience has shown that any initiative aimed at making impactful change has to be a collective. Thus, promoting and creating safer schools has to be a community effort. As the Fund notes in its strategy report, “communities have the power to influence and foster healthy family relationships.”
Working through a coalition of organisations in the Western Cape, the Fund was able to reduce the impact of historic socio-economic injustice and inequality through the Mother & Daughter programme. The project encourages a more open relationship between mothers and daughters as a way of using challenges that they experience daily to build healthy relationships in the community.
Other than making history as South Africa’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela is remembered for his dedication to promoting and protecting children’s rights.
Nedbank is committed to his vision.
The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.