Corporal punishment in the spotlight again

Corporal punishment in the spotlight again. Picture: File

Corporal punishment in the spotlight again. Picture: File

Published Feb 22, 2024


Corporal punishment will once again be under the spotlight next week when Section27, representing the Centre for Child Law and the parents of two learners who were assaulted by their teachers, will argue the topic before the Supreme Court of Appeal on Monday.

Despite corporal punishment being banned from South African schools since 1996, it is said to still be rife in some areas.

The parties are partially appealing an earlier High Court judgment following the actions of two teachers who meted out corporal punishment against two primary school learners in the classroom.

Both teachers received lenient sanctions from the South African Council for Educators (SACE), which were based on its internal policy called the “mandatory sanctions policy”.

SACE, the custodian of the teaching profession, fined both teachers R15 000 each, of which R5 000 was suspended. SACE’s sanction also included striking the names of both teachers off the educators’ roll, which was also suspended for 10 years.

This means that these teachers are still teaching in the classrooms with no consideration for learners’ safety and no obligation on the teachers to correct their behaviour, Section27 said.

It earlier asked the High Court to order that SACE revise its mandatory sanctions policy, and include important elements in it such as rehabilitative and corrective sanctions (such as anger management), to uphold the principle of the best interests of the child.

It also asked SACE to include a more child-centred approach which would allow learners and their parents to make representations and participate in SACE’s disciplinary hearings.

Section27 also requested that the decisions against the two teachers be set aside and sent back to SACE for reconsideration. However, the court only agreed that SACE’s internal policy be changed.

Section27 is now appealing the judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal in a bid for the two teachers to be subjected to fresh hearings.

It will argue that SACE does in fact have a discretion to choose what sanctions it imposes on teachers. However, it said, SACE incorrectly relies on its internal sanctioning policy as if it were law, and in doing so imposes prescribed sanctions without considering the facts of each case or the severity of the charges against a teacher.

Section27 will also argue that SACE failed to adopt a child-centred approach in its decision-making as the children and their parents were not consulted during SACE’s disciplinary proceedings, nor were they given an opportunity to make representations or give evidence concerning appropriate sanctions.

In 2019, Section27 reported the two educators to SACE for egregious assault against very young learners. In the first instance, a learner in Grade 2 was hit on the back of his head with a PVC pipe by his teacher.

In the second instance, a teacher hit a Grade 5 learner on her cheek and then on her head. The learner experienced lasting bleeding from her ears which required her to visit several doctors, resulting in her absenteeism from school and her repeating her grade.

SACE held disciplinary hearings in September 2019, where both teachers pleaded guilty and both were fined.

SACE never provided Section27 with reasons for these lenient sanctions, and a decision was taken to take SACE to court.

SACE is meanwhile cross-appealing the High Court's decision that its mandatory sanctions policy be revised.

Section27 said in terms of the Constitution, case law and the Children’s Act, children and their families must be given an opportunity to express their views in matters affecting a child and SACE should have treated these views as relevant to their decision-making.

According to Section27, as SACE allowed these two teachers back into the classroom, it should have considered whether it was necessary for them to undergo rehabilitation or retraining to address their violent behaviour.

“While it is important to ensure discipline in the classroom, the law relating to the administering the corporal punishment ban must be respected.

“We encourage that teachers must be trained in alternative methods of discipline, and acts of serious violence by learners against teachers must also be dealt with according to the proper criminal (if necessary) and disciplinary process,” Section27 said.

Pretoria News

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