Sexual abuse at schools a 'pandemic'

Rights group Section27 is working on six cases in schools in three provinces involving rape and coercive sex. (Madelene Cronjé, MG)

Rights group Section27 is working on six cases in schools in three provinces involving rape and coercive sex. (Madelene Cronjé, MG)

War must be waged against the pandemic of sexual violence and the sexualisation of South Africa's pupils, civil society said this week.

Pupils selling sex videos, the sexual assault by grade R pupils of even younger pupils and the evolution of "taxi-queen" pupils who offer sex for taxi rides were among the growing trends delegates discussed at a conference of civil society organisations this week.

"Sexual violence against pupils appears to be a pandemic in this country," said Mark Heywood, the director of rights organisation Section27, at the conference, which was held in Johannesburg on Wednesday and Thursday. "About six months ago we took a case to Gauteng education MEC Barbara Creecy that we were shocked by and she said something along the lines of 'I get about six of these a day', basically admitting that the problem is out of control."

Civil society is increasingly turning to the law to pursue cases. Nikki Stein, an attorney at Section27, said: "Rights organisations have seen an increase in sexual violence cases in the past year. These cases are complicated and require input from a big team — there can be up to seven lawyers working on one case. Section27 is working on six cases of sexual violence in schools in three different provinces. Some of them involve violent rape and others involve coercion in the form exchanging sex for marks or some other material reward.

"All of them are before the provincial education departments for teacher disciplinary hearings and some are in the criminal justice system. In some cases, there are also disciplinary hearings against teachers and principals who knew about the violence, but did not report it as they were legally required to."

The education conference focused on how far South Africa had progressed in the realisation of education as a socioeconomic right and addressed learning support materials, school management and governance, as well as access to education. It was hosted by high-profile education and child rights non-governmental organisations, including the Legal Resources Centre and Section27. Gauteng education department official Tinka Labuschagne detailed alarming incidents of pupil-against-pupil sexual violence the department had dealt with.

Vicious stuff
"Juveniles are responsible for more than a third of sex offences against minors," she said. "The average age of offenders against children under 12 [is] 14 years old [and the] average age of victims is 10 years old," she told delegates. "There are a lot [of pupils] showing clips of baby porn, child porn and adult porn," she said. Some of the porn and games circulated by pupils were animated but nevertheless "vicious stuff". She knew of one child who charged fellow pupils R2 each for a sex video.

Some schoolgirls exchanged sex or oral sex for rides with taxi drivers who "sometimes even put a plastic crown on the girls' heads while they sit next to them," she said.

She referred to graphic sex letters by pupils about teachers that the department had confiscated, pupils who had been caught carrying the date-rape drug Rohypnol and a video of a grade eight pupil being sexually assaulted while drunk that had circulated at one school.

Labuschagne showed delegates photos of a pupil in a school classroom with her school shirt open showing bare breasts as examples of material being sold by pupils to other pupils and on pornography websites. "The younger you are, the higher the price," she said. "There are sites where if [your photo] gets 20 000 hits you get R37 000, for example."

There was "wonderful policy for how schools should deal with this",  Labuschagne said, "but how do you implement it in the schools?" She spoke of workshops she conducts with principals on how to deal with new trends, the educator as sex offender, the dynamics of incestuous families, child trafficking and the Children's Act.

Creecy told the conference that life orientation was a subject crucial in the education of pupils about sex. "Maybe some pupils choose pregnancy because there are no other options for them, as unbelievable as it seems," Creecy said.

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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