Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Disabled children face uphill education battle

More than half of children with disabilities in Orange Farm outside of the Johannesburg don’t go to school, despite the Constitution guaranteeing their right to it, according to Jean Elphick from nongovernmental organisation Afrika Tikkun’s Empowerment Programme.

Elphick was speaking at the 18th Rural Health Conference in Worcester on Monday.

“The compendium of legal and policy reform undertaken by the state in the last two decades demonstrates a clear commitment, at least in theory, to the right of access to a basic education for children with disabilities. Unfortunately, however, the implementation of inclusive education since the end of apartheid does not yet reflect law and policy,” she said.

According to a study that Elphick and her colleagues published in the academic journal Childhood this year, parents and caregivers of disabled children in Orange Farm approach on average up to seven different schools seeking admission. Many spent between R600 and R900 travelling to and from offices and schools to obtain the necessary documentation and complete assessments.

The study authors said no local schools in the community cater for children with moderate to high educational support needs. “Reasons given for refusal of admission of children include lack of space in the school, insufficient facilities like ramps or continence care, or insufficient skills to accommodate the children with disabilities. Caregivers were also told that their children posed a risk to the teachers and other pupils, distracted other learners and were uncontrollable,” the authors found.

Additional reasons for exclusion included their children’s inability to read or write their names or speak English, their failure to undergo the necessary assessments (among others occupational therapy and educational psychology), the absence of necessary documentation or their residence in “the wrong” district.

Extremely challenging
“They [education department officials] won’t take you seriously. They will just tell you to tell the school to find a place. ‘We are very busy’. They act like they are very important people. So they are not treating us with respect,” one parent told the authors.

Caregivers and parents said transporting their disabled children to school was extremely challenging. Some relied on informal taxi drivers to take their children to the train station or to school. For one caregiver, this meant walking to a collection point for 40 minutes each morning with her nine-year-old son strapped to her back.

One mother told the researchers that her family calls her “crazy” for sending her son to school. “They say I must stay with this child at home. They say I am wasting my money,” she said.

According to Elphick, it’s “just a matter of time” before a disabled child is sexually abused in South African communities.

“Forty percent of rape cases in South Africa are rape of children, 15% of which are under the age of 12. Children with disabilities are reported to be at three to five times the risk of abuse than their non-disabled peers, and the threshold for reporting suspected abuse is lower for children with intellectual impairments,” she said.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Mia Malan
Mia Malan
Mia Malan is the founding director and editor of the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism at the Mail & Guardian. She heads up a team of fifteen permanent and freelance staff members. She loves drama, good wine and strong coffee, not necessarily in that order.
Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

‘Exciting’ ramp-up for Covid jabs

As more vaccines arrive in the country, South Africa could administer 420 000 doses a day

Mokgoro was party to talks of his resignation

The North West premier has defied the interim provincial committee’s decision

More top stories

‘Exciting’ ramp-up for Covid jabs

As more vaccines arrive in the country, South Africa could administer 420 000 doses a day

Mokgoro was party to talks of his resignation

The North West premier has defied the interim provincial committee’s decision

Richard Calland: Cyril’s wicked cabinet conundrum

Three weeks ago, a second term for the president seemed a safe bet, but the insurgency has thrown the puzzle pieces in the air

ConCourt finds that protection of LGBT+ rights was intrinsic to...

The court also found that the term hurtful should be excised from the Equality Act in that it did not meet the justification threshold in the Constitution and gave Parliament 24 months to do so

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…