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If your child returned home from school with tear stained cheeks and red welts across their thighs, your first instinct might be to phone the school and demand an explanation.

But, what if it was a member of staff who inflicted the harm in the first place? What’s the protocol then?

Spanking, a ruler to the knuckles or even a slap of the wrist are examples of corporal punishment. In the school context, it’s defined as the intentional exertion of physical force against a pupil by a teacher, or another supervising adult, in response to undesired behaviour.

For the past 22 years, any form of such punishment has been banned by the South African Schools Act. Section 10(1) states that no person may administer corporal punishment at a school to a learner. Any person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a sentence which could be imposed for assault.

Although this law has been in effect for the past two decades, statistics from Stats SA reveals a harrowing reality. Their 2016 survey found that 11.5% (1.2 million) children attending school aged 7–17 years, reported to have experienced some form of violence at school in the three months prior to the survey period.

What should you do if your child has received corporal punishment at school by a supervising adult?

The South African Council for Educators (SACE) shared how to lodge a complaint against a teacher on their website (www.sace.org.za):

It is highly preferred that all complaints be in writing and signed by the complainant, his or her legal representative, union representative or any other person lodging the complaint on behalf of the complainant; and

  • It may be faxed, e-mailed, posted or hand delivered;

  • Complaints may also be lodged via telephone

  • A complaint must be comprehensive and must contain all the relevant dates, facts, supported by relevant documentation and other evidence

  • the following information must also be supplied:

    • The complainant’s name, mail delivery address and contact telephone numbers,

    • if the complainant is representing a victim, the name of the victim must also be included.

    • Should a complainant wish to remain anonymous, the following information must be supplied in full;

      • name of the person (s) against whom the complaint is lodged;

      • name of the school involved

      • if a learner is involved, the name of the learner, the school wherein he/ she is attending and the grade wherein the learner may be full particulars regarding the complaint (what happened)

      • date of the incident, etc

A letter of complaint should be forwarded to Chief Executive Officer, South African Council for Educators (SACE), Private Bag  X 127, Centurion 0046 .

The letter may also be hand delivered to Chief Executive Officer, South African Council for Educators (SACE), 240 Lenchen Avenue, Centurion 0046 or it may be emailed to [email protected]

What the procedure for dealing with a complaint entails:

SACE explained that upon receipt of the complaint,

  • it is registered (a file is opened and a case number allocated);

  • the person complained of (alleged accused is informed about the allegations against him/her) and

  • request for a written reply with regards to the allegations within 10 days and in some cases within 5 days depending on the nature of the complaint;

  • a letter will also be sent to the other parties mentioned in the allegations, including the complainant;

  • once a response is received, it is read and a recommendation will be prepared for the Ethics Committee;

  • Ethics committee guides the processes and will determine whether a complaint warrants;

    • An investigation

    • Mediation

    • Discipline

    • Refer complaint to the relevant authority or body such as the Department of Education (DoE), Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), South African Police Services (SAPS),

    • Further advise as to how a case should unfold, etc