Pretoria - Despite the ban on corporal punishment, it is still rife at schools across the country, the Centre for Child Law has said in an application in which it is challenging the punishment meted out by two teachers who hit primary school children.
The centre has turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, where it filed papers to challenge the “lenient” punishment by the SA Council for Educators of the teachers while Section27 will take up the fight on behalf of the children’s parents.
The action followed two complaints Section27 received from two sets of parents who said their children – one a boy and one a girl – had been beaten by teachers.
In the first case in Gauteng, a 7-year-old boy in Grade 2 was hit on the back of his head with a PVC pipe by his teacher in 2015.
He suffered head injuries which became infected and resulted in his hospitalisation.
In the second case in Limpopo in 2019, a 10-year-old girl in Grade 5 was slapped over the head and cheek by her teacher. She was left with bleeding ears and suffered ongoing complications as a result of which she had to repeat the year.
The parents of both learners have shared the fear their children felt in going back to school.
The Council for Educators conducted disciplinary hearings for the teachers, both of whom pleaded guilty to their misconduct.
The sentences imposed on both teachers included their removal from the roll of educators. However, this sanction was suspended for 10 years – allowing the teachers to continue working for as long as they are not found guilty of another case of misconduct.
In addition, the teachers received a fine of R15 000, of which R5 000 was suspended, leaving R10 000.00 payable over 12 months.
Section27 considers the sanctions imposed to be insubstantial, as the teachers had breached the educators’ council constitutional obligation to protect learners' rights. Discipline, in terms of the law, should not be punitive.
Karabo Ozah of the Centre for Child Law said in papers filed, that the South African Schools Act banned the use of corporal punishment in 1996. In 2000 this was confirmed in the Christian Education case.
She said research showed that corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure remained prevalent across schools in South Africa. The Statistics South Africa General Household Survey 2018 indicates that as many as one million learners reported that they experienced corporal punishment in that year.
The centre for Child Law highlighted in a report that the impact of corporal punishment on learners was severe.
The evidence summarised in the report suggests that corporal punishment is psychologically harmful to a learner, and negatively impacts a child’s ability to perform and participate confidently at school.
The report recommends more robust mechanisms in South Africa to enforce the ban on corporal punishment.
Registered educators are bound by the Council’s code of ethics, which prescribes that the interactions between teachers and their learners must, above all, uphold the constitutional rights of children, she said.
Ozah added that as the custodian of the teaching profession, the council has the responsibility to take appropriate action against teachers who violate the code by practising corporal punishment and infringing on pupils’ rights to be free from harm and violence.
The Council for Educators, meanwhile, indicated that it would oppose this application and it is expected to hand to the registrar of the court the records relating to its decisions when it punished the two teachers.
In terms of the law, a person who contravenes the provision around corporal punishment – whether teacher, parent or other adult – is guilty of a criminal offence, and, if convicted, can receive a sentence that can be imposed for assault.