Pretoria - The Department of Basic Education, the Minister of Police and a school governing body in the North West may be held in breach of their constitutional duties after a caretaker who allegedly sexually abused two pupils continued to work at the school.
The Teddy Bear Clinic and the parents of the victims will also ask the High Court sitting in Mafikeng for an order that education officials investigate the matter properly and take appropriate disciplinary action against the caretaker.
Section27, which represents the Teddy Bear Clinic, has instituted the court action following the continued employment of the caretaker at the primary school, even after the education authorities were made aware of the allegations of sexual abuse against him.
The Department of Basic Education as well as the Police Ministry were added as respondents in the case due to their alleged lack of action in the matter over the years.
One pupil was allegedly raped by the caretaker in 2015. Two years later, the same caretaker allegedly sexually assaulted that pupil’s younger sibling.
After the caretaker allegedly raped a pupil in 2015, her parents tried to report the incident to the principal, the district education office and local police station. However, no action was taken against him, and he continued to work at the school and apparently intimidated and terrorised the minor and her family.
Two years later, the child and her younger sibling were visiting their paternal grandmother, and the caretaker was present at the house.
It is alleged that the caretaker accosted the child’s sister by fondling her buttocks. He then gave her R5 and told her not to speak of the incident.
The parents said that because no action was taken against the caretaker at the time of the first incident, the same caretaker continued preying on minors and sexually assaulted their other child.
Patience Phiri of Section27 said the 2019 Protocol for the Management and Reporting of Sexual Abuse and Harassment in Schools stated that school officials had a duty to report any suspected incident of sexual abuse or harassment immediately.
“But in this case, the caretaker was only suspended four years later, after Section27 instituted legal action in October 2021.”
She added that according to the Children’s Act, the principal and school governing body’s joint failure to report sexual assault was a criminal offence.
“At all levels of the education system, authorities failed these two learners. Section27 believes that the education authorities breached their constitutional obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the learners’ constitutional rights and the obligation to act in the best interests of children.”
Phiri said South African society needed to do more to support survivors of sexual abuse and prevent ongoing abuse, particularly when it involved the abuse of minors.
“The failure to address sexual abuse or harassment is systemic, and officials in the basic education sector must take immediate and effective action against alleged perpetrators when such abuse takes place in the school environment.”