Games such as ”hit me, hit me” and ”rape me, rape me”, where schoolchildren chase each other and then pretend to hit or rape each other, are being played at South African schools, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said in a report on school-based violence, which was presented in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
”This game demonstrates the extent and level … [that the] brutalisation of the youth has reached and how endemic sexual violence has become in South Africa,” the SAHRC said.
During public hearings, on which the report is based, the SAHRC heard from NGO Community Action toward a Safe Environment that games such as these indicate how violence has become part of children’s identities.
The report said school is the ”single most common” site of crimes such as assault and robbery against pupils. According to a study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), young people are twice as likely to become victims of crime than adults.
”Just over two-fifths [41,1%] of the young people interviewed had been victims of some form of crime,” it said.
The CJCP also found that toilets are an area of the school feared most by pupils.
”Research indicates that learners perceive school toilets as the least safe areas, as are grounds and playing fields,” the report said.
These areas are a haven for bullies, which is the most common and well-known form of school violence.
More than a fifth of sexual assaults on young people occur while they are at school, the SAHRC said.
According to a study conducted among 1 227 female students who were victims of sexual assault, 8,6% were assaulted by teachers, the report said.
The Western Cape department of education said that on average it receives between one and four cases a month against teachers for sexual assault or harassment of students.
”Very often, disciplinary procedures are not followed through and educators resign upon being formally charged,” the SAHRC said.
Another study, by the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, found that 26% of students are of the opinion that forced sexual intercourse does not necessarily constitute rape.
”This finding raises pertinent questions as to what in the perception of a girl learner constitutes sexual assault,” the SAHRC said.
The Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town told the commission the most common forms of violence it treats scholars for are assault with a fist, knife or panga, rape and sexual assault, bite wounds and firearm-related injuries.
The Catholic Institute of Education also gave different examples where pupils brought guns to school.
‘Twenty-five times higher’
”The probability that a child growing up in South Africa will be admitted to hospital with an injury is approximately 25 times higher than that of a child growing up elsewhere in the world,” the report said.
It said many instances of school violence are unintentional, with children underestimating the potential ”lethal consequences” of possessing a gun.
The SAHRC, in its recommendations, said the Department of Education should assist schools in identifying areas, such as toilets, where victimisation occurs and consider ”reconfiguring” them.
Careful screening and security measures are other methods mooted to prevent pupils from bringing weapons into schools.
”The [Education Department] should carefully consider the implementation of security devices, including metal detectors and fences,” it said.
Other recommendations include reducing overcrowding, transforming unattractive learning environments and ensuring safe transport for pupils.
‘High levels of prejudice’
The SAHRC also said on Wednesday that corrective rape, where a male pupil rapes a female lesbian pupil to ”make her heterosexual”, is a growing phenomenon in schools.
A gay and lesbian rights group told the commission that homosexual pupils experience ”high levels of prejudice” at school, resulting in ”exclusion, marginalisation and victimisation”.
”There is a growing phenomenon of corrective rape. This refers to an instance where a male learner rapes a lesbian female learner in the belief that after such a sexual attack the learner will no longer be lesbian,” the report said.
It said heterosexism and homophobia fuel discrimination against gay and lesbian pupils in South African schools.
”Within the school environment there is a clear need to place the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues within a human rights framework and to engage religious values.”
Meanwhile, South Africa’s child death rate due to violence is 60% higher than the global average, the Red Cross Children’s Hospital said in the report by the SAHRC.
According to the hospital’s statistics, 10% of the 4 474 children it treated over nine years were assaulted in school.
”It would appear that being at school is more dangerous for children than being anywhere else,” the report said
The SAHRC said: ”Learners now seem more willing and able to employ physically aggressive methods to resolve conflicts. Knives, weapons and handguns appear to be more readily used than before.”– Sapa