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An HRW report finds that the South African government is failing half a million children with disabilities who are shut out of the education system.
An estimated half a million children with disabilities have been shut out of South Africa's education system, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on August 18 2015 at a joint event with South Africa's Human Rights Commission in Johannesburg.
The report found that South Africa has failed to guarantee the right to education for many of the country's children and young adults owing to widespread discrimination against children with disabilities in enrolment decisions. HRW research in five provinces shows that children with disabilities face discriminatory physical and attitudinal barriers, often beginning early in children's lives when government officials classify them according to their disabilities.
"The South African government needs to admit that it is not providing quality education to all of its children – in fact, no schooling at all to many who have disabilities," said children's rights researcher and report author Elin Martínez. "The job is not done until all children count just the same in the education system."
Although the government says it has achieved the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of enrolling all children in primary schools by 2015, HRW found that in reality many children with disabilities across South Africa are not in school.
The government has had a policy since 2001 to end the exclusion of children with disabilities from the country's schools and to provide education for all children in inclusive schools. But the government has yet to put into operation fundamental aspects of the policy.
Contrary to the state's international and national obligations, many children are turned away from mainstream schools and referred to special schools by school officials or medical staff because they have a disability. The referrals system forces children to wait needlessly for up to four years at care centres or at home for placement in a special school.
A lack of understanding of children's disabilities and a lack of adequate teacher training means that many teachers and school officials do not know how to work with children with disabilities. HRW found that in some cases children suffered physical violence and neglect in schools.
Children with disabilities enter the system much later on average than children without disabilities and often drop out or finish school without successfully completing basic education owing to the poor quality of education at many mainstream and special schools. HRW found that children with disabilities who attend special schools must often pay fees that children without disabilities do not. In some cases, parents are unable to send their child to school because they cannot pay these fees.
The government should adopt a new policy and legislation to require all provincial governments and schools to ensure that all learners with disabilities are able to complete their basic education, and that they are given an equal opportunity to go to mainstream schools that are accessible and free of violence, the HRW report says.
"The current system is ad hoc and expensive, and isolates children with disabilities from other learners," Martínez said. "As a result, the government is failing hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities, violating its own policies and laws."
Read this witness report - Sidelined in South Africa For Being Different