Cry for help from terrified farm kids
Cape Town - Children from several farming communities, many of whom have to walk long distances to school and are targeted by criminals while en route, are demanding intervention from the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).
On Monday about 200 children, accompanied by representatives from the Women on Farms Project, marched to the provincial legislature where a memorandum of demands was handed over to an education official.
Several of the children spoke of the dangers they face every day, from crossing railway lines while on their way to school, to being robbed of their money.
Karen Roos, women’s health and empowerment co-ordinator for the Women on Farms Project, said that in some instances children were physically assaulted and arrived at school or home with “bleeding noses and blue eyes”.
The march followed days after a meeting between Education MEC Debbie Schäfer and representatives from the project to discuss the results of a recent survey of 320 children in Stellenbosch, Wellington, Wolseley and Grabouw.
Among other things, it showed that:
* A third of the children had experienced violent sexual abuse while on their way to schools and there were two reports of rape.
* More than half of the respondents had been robbed while on their way to or from school.
* More than half couldn’t attend extramural sports after school as buses home departed immediately after the last class.
The children’s demands included that buses be provided for children who want to attend extra classes and sport activities, regular visible policing on the major walking routes and bus shelters for children who make use of the buses.
They also demanded that the department amend its transport policy to allow children in rural areas who live less than five kilometres away from the nearest school to qualify for transport.
Schäfer’s spokeswoman, Jessica Shelver, said the department provided transport for pupils from poor communities who live more than 5km from their nearest school, if they didn’t have access to hostels, and if no public transport was available.
“The 5km radius is a WCED Learner Transport Scheme policy requirement that can unfortunately not be amended to cater for learners who are residing less than 5km away.
“As a department we need to operate within our budget limitations. If changed, it will have serious financial implications for the department.”
She said principals could arrange with the service provider, “where it is practically possible”, that pupils who had to attend either afternoon/extra classes or sport activities be transported later.
She said the provision of bus shelters “is not a WCED mandate”.
Last week Shelver indicated that Schäfer had asked the department to contact the local police offices within the affected areas and ask for assistance in terms of visible policing.