Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

EAST LONDON - The Eastern Cape was dubbed "the province of shame" on Wednesday because of the poor protection it offered to pupils with disabilities. 

Lidia Pretorius, the social development chief director for the rights of people with disabilities, said at a special schools indaba that there was an eighty to 90% chance of sexual violation, abuse and neglect of pupils at special needs' schools with boarding facilities.

"In most provinces where we have a complaint it gets attention and we get feedback. In the Eastern Cape, it has gotten to the point where we have stopped referring parents to the department; we advise them to write to the MEC and the Human Rights Commission due to lack of response in the system," said Pretorius. 

Special needs' schools were far from communities and many parents did not have the means to interact regularly with their disabled children, she said. 

"Parents don't have means to visit and have regular contact with their children and that creates an environment for abuse.  The moment the parents are very far from school, their oversight in terms of parental involvement is not there as it is at 'normal' schools where there are governing bodies," said Pretorius.

The CEO for the province's disability economic empowerment trust, Thabiso Phetuka, said that despite policies, the province had not done much to create inclusive education.

Said Phetuka: "Disabled kids are denied education. Some communities and school principals are refusing access to education for disabled learners. They refer them to special schools whilst the policy says a child must learn where he or she lives."

He said the province had 47 schools for special needs' learning that were concentrated in urban areas, although the Eastern Cape was widely rural. 

Pupils with disabilities should attend schools in their communities and the department of education should bring support initiatives to schools, he said. 

Pretorius called for an end to discrimination against pupils with disabilities. 

"We have found problems in former white schools with teachers telling us, 'we are not ready to teach black kids because we don't understand their culture, capacitate us'. Nobody should pass the buck just because you are not ready or have not been capacitated, you have no right to exclude disabled learners," said Pretorius.

Education MEC Mlungisi Mvoko said the indaba would assist the department to identify areas where it had failed to implement policy.

"We need to change the mindset of teachers. We want to enforce inclusive learning in the new education plan for the province," said Mvoko. 

African News Agency (ANA)