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.

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Mia Malan
Mia Malan
Mia Malan is Bhekisisa's editor-in-chief and executive director. Malan has won more than 20 African journalism awards for her work and is a former fellow of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.
Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Energy department wastes R20.7-million in bungled solar geyser project

Of 87 206 solar geysers procured, only 61 000 were delivered, and fewer than 3 200 were installed

Tunisia struggles to grow more wheat as Ukraine war bites

Since the Ukraine war sent global cereal prices soaring, import-dependent Tunisia has announced a push to grow all its own durum wheat, the basis for local staples like couscous and pasta.

Democracy under serious and sustained attack from within the US

Far-right Republicans and the conservative supreme court are working on a carefully laid plan to turn the US into a repressive regime

Grilling for UK leader Boris Johnson after top ministers quit

The prime minister has faced lawmakers' questions after two of the most senior figures in his government resigned. The finance and health ministers said they could no longer tolerate the culture of scandal

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…