Johannesburg - Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre have welcomed improvements to the BELA Bill but remain concerned about the criminalisation of parents and caregivers.
According to the statement, on Tuesday, the portfolio committee for basic education adopted the final Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill and referred it to Parliament for consideration.
This comes after many years of the bill being in development and an extensive and contentious public consultation process. The bill, once finalised, will bring the most significant changes to basic education laws in the last decade.
“The BELA Bill aims not only to bring education laws in line with court judgments, but also to update the law so that it is more relevant to the current needs of learners and the sector broadly. For the main part, we welcome the latest changes to provisions made in response to public comments. However, we remain concerned that the bill unjustly criminalises parents and that this seriously threatens the best interests of the child.
“In June 2022, Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) made joint written and oral submissions to Parliament on the bill,” read the statement.
Both organisations say that the final version of the bill retains the extended jail time – from six to 12 months – for anyone, including caregivers, who prevents a child from attending school without a good reason.
“It is concerning that the members of the portfolio committee paid such little attention to this provision because criminalising parents and caregivers does not solve the underlying reasons why children sometimes do not go to school. In South Africa, many parents may choose not to send their child to school for legitimate reasons, for example, if the school’s infrastructure presents a significant safety risk to the child. This clause also fails to recognise the potential harm to children should their primary caregiver be incarcerated,” read the statement.
The two organisations said that they raised concerns and suggested amendments regarding particular provisions, some of which have now been included in the final version of the bill.
EE and EELC said that they welcomed the removal of the “intergovernmental committees” provision. Initially, the bill proposed the formation of intergovernmental committees to “assist” learners in obtaining necessary documents, but the proposed representatives on these committees included the Department of Home Affairs, SAPS, and the Department of Labour.
“This indicated that these committees could be used for the purposes of immigration control. Fortunately, this provision was removed. We remain concerned regarding documents ‘required’ for school admission and the criminalisation of parents/caregivers for submitting false or misleading information,” added the statement.