/ 15 October 2010

Sexual abuse rampant at rural schools

Mpumalanga’s education department has dismissed 60 teachers for sexually abusing pupils in the past five years, the province’s education minister, Reginah Mhaule, has disclosed. Ten of them are appealing their dismissal.

Many cases of abuse took place in rural areas where the victims and their parents were hesitant about reporting the abuse to the police, Mhaule said during the provincial leg of the National Teaching Awards in White River last Friday.

“We’re concerned that many of the victims are from poor families and the parents don’t report incidents because teachers are seen as sources of funding and support,” she said.

Pretty Mnisi, a social worker at the Masisukumeni Women’s Crisis Centre in Tonga in the deep-rural Nkomazi area, told the Mail & Guardian that teachers often promised money to parents or bought them food or gifts in exchange for sex with their children. Mnisi said ignorance of parents’ and children’s rights often played a role. “Some parents notice the relationships but don’t know where to report it. They may also think it’s okay because maybe the teachers will marry their children and lift them out of poverty.”

Mnisi said some girls viewed having a sexual relationship with a teacher or “someone who works for the government” as a status symbol.

In a report two years ago Mfana Lushaba, Mpumalanga education department’s regional director for the Ehlanzeni school district, said 1 052 girls from 110 high schools and 58 primary schools in the district’s 13 circuits had fallen pregnant. Teachers were the suspected fathers in most cases. “It could be the reason why the Nkomazi area has an estimated HIV prevalence of 38% in a population of 250 000,” he said.

According to the South African Council of Educators 75 teachers were removed from the educators’ register last year for misconduct. The register records all teachers employed at private and state schools. “They were struck off for a number of reasons, but mostly sexual offences,” said spokesperson Themba Ndhlovu. He could not provide a provincial breakdown of figures.

National basic education spokesperson Granville Whittle said that of the 75 teachers struck off last year six were found guilty of rape, 20 of having a sexual relationship with a pupil and 21 of sexual assault.

The provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, Walter Hlayise, said teachers found guilty of sexual abuse were dismissed for life as union members. — African Eye News Service