Johannesburg - The Gauteng Department of Social Development says it does not know how many crèches are operating illegally in the province. This is despite the growing number of day-care centres opening in urban areas and informal settlements.

This week the department closed down Petite Bumper Daycare in Rosettenville after a video of a 16-month-old toddler who was gagged and tied up with tape went viral.

The little girl, whose hands and feet were tied, was placed in a bathroom because the owner allegedly wanted to watch television.

Lebeeba Truter has since been charged with assault and child abuse.

It also emerged that her day-care centre was not registered.

The Pre School Association SA voiced its concern about the incident, saying the system faced a plethora of challenges as most crèches were not listed with the correct bodies. Association owner Natalie Webster said: “There are a lot of preschools just mushrooming up… it’s quite a problem.”

Webster, who established the organisation to show people that “someone cares”, said whenever she received complaints about a crèche that was not part of her association, she referred them to the Gauteng Department of Social Development, but said these were often not followed up as the department was “quite understaffed”.

On Friday the department’s spokesman, Sello Mokoena, said in the past year the province had received only six complaints about illegal or non-registered day-care centres, and these had been investigated.

The department subsequently closed down three crèches – in Vereeniging, Tshwane, and recently in Rosettenville.

Mokoena said he was not aware of illegal crèches “mushrooming” in the province, but said up to 2 074 crèches were registered with the department. Of these, 1 206 were subsidised by the government.

“There hasn’t been an overwhelming number of complaints. We don’t have any evidence to show that there are many of these operating illegally. If there are, we encourage the public to report them,” he said.

Mokoena said some early childhood development centres were subsidised by the government, while others sourced their funding elsewhere.

City of Joburg spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane said 1 448 early childhood development centres in the city were registered. Of these, 260 were funded by the city. Last year, the city received 13 complaints about illegal day-care centres.

Modingoane said a majority of the complaints had been resolved. He could not say what action the city takes against unregistered nursery schools.

The law states that any individual or establishment that cares for children up to the age of six on behalf of their parents or guardians for specific hours of the day or night, or a temporary period, must be registered.

The application includes a detailed business plan.

In 2010, five-month-old Ava Barley died after falling from a bed at the Aunty Dawn’s day-care centre and playgroup in Pinelands, Cape Town.

The crèche was not registered at the time.

Owner Dawn Moore maintained the fall was an accident. She was never arrested.

Moore told the Saturday Star this week that, after being through “hell”, she was now cautious about accepting children at her school.

“If a child cries consistently, I get rid of it. I tell the parents that I can not take care of the child because I don’t know what is wrong. Some parents bring children with ailments and hardly tell the nursery school. She (Truter) should have done the same thing instead of tying up the child,” she said.

Karen Tarryn, principal at Royal Kids Academy in Mulbarton, south of Joburg, said it was disgusting for any school to allow this to happen.

“They (children) can’t even speak for themselves. Where does responsibility fall – parents or caretakers? It goes both ways. Any parent should feel comfortable to leave his or her child.”

ABC Nasarec preschool owner Gloria Molelekoa said it was important for parents to conduct thorough background checks on nursery schools.

She called for harsh punishment to be imposed on Truter.

Truter will appear again at the Joburg Magistrate’s Court on April 25 for a bail application.

Provincial police spokesman Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng said police were still searching for the person who shot the video of the toddler.

Saturday Star