When alcohol abuse becomes child abuse

A grade-one teacher at Simondium Primary School, near Franschhoek, Western Cape, tells the Mail & Guardian:

“About half the pupils in my class suffer in some way or another from the effects of alcohol abuse by their parents and people around them. The parents drink from Friday afternoon when they get off work, straight through to Sunday, a habit which leaves them with little time to pay attention to their kids or for any significant bonding to take place.

“My pupils also suffer from physical abuse—like the boy who came into class the other day with a burnt hand. Turns out the mother put his little hand on the hot plate of the stove because he was naughty.

“They often get punished by their parents because they dared to touch “dad’s wine” or interrupted mom while she was on a drinking spree with her buddies.

“They also don’t get taken to the nearby clinic when they have medical problems, the parents simply are not interested in taking them.

“These children did not go to kindergarten or grade R, which means they come to school for the first time in grade one.
This means they take a long time to learn how to write their own names.

“The parents work—mostly as labourers on the wine farms—from six in the mornings to six in the evenings, which means they never attend parent-teacher meetings, but on Mondays you can see them walking along with crates of empty beer bottles.

“When you ask a pupil on Monday why his uniform is not clean, he’ll say outright: ‘Ma het net gesuip [Mom was drinking].’ In class they seek attention at all costs and have trouble sitting still. They also don’t understand the things they’re supposed to be learning and become bored easily.

“About seven out of my class of 34 pupils suffer from foetal alcohol syndrome. You can see it the moment they enter the classroom. They have slant-eyes and their noses are pulled upwards. They often have runny noses and they talk differently from the other kids; they can’t communicate properly and don’t react when asked questions.

“Mostly kids with foetal alcohol syndrome will make friends with others who also have the disease. All seven in my class are in line to go to a school for children with disabilities, but the school cannot accommodate them and, therefore, they have to continue in our school until they get allocated a space.”

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