W. Cape education dept clarifies school rape incident

RIGHT OF REPLY

I refer to the article: “Rapists back at school with victims” in the Mail and Guardian on March 8 2019. The article makes a number of allegations against the Western Cape education department (WCED) that are incorrect.

The incident of sodomy, involving four boys from a Cape Winelands primary school, is of extreme concern to the department. The incident in November 2018 involved four alleged perpetrators (one in Grade 6 and 3 in Grade 7) and four victims (three in Grade 4 and one in Grade 5).

The school reported the incident to the relevant authorities as per our ‘abuse no more’ protocol. This protocol has been in place since 2001 (and was updated in 2014 to take into account changes in legislation) and clearly outlines the process which schools must follow when managing any form of abuse reported in their schools. Unlike the comments made by Ms Naomi Betana in the article, these guidelines clearly exist.

All WCED employees have to ensure that they are fully conversant with the reporting procedures and the content of this protocol and that they have a clear understanding of their roles in the management of child abuse and sexual offences against children.

In this particular case, a school social worker was called to the school, and the matter was referred to SAPS. Contrary to the article, counselling was provided to both the victims and perpetrators last year, as well as their parents.

This year there has been ongoing counselling engagements.

The perpetrators were immediately suspended pending a disciplinary hearing. The disciplinary committee recommended expulsion in these cases.

The head of department upheld the expulsion recommendation. However, as the perpetrators had left the school, either by their own choice, or because it was their final year of primary school, the expulsion could not come into effect.

The South African Schools Act is very clear regarding a child’s right to education, and therefore, despite what happened, they had every right to enrol at another school while the criminal investigation is underway. The fact that the FCS unit and SAPS has not completed their investigation means that the learners have not yet been criminally charged. They are therefore still obligated to attend school.

At the same time, the victims all enrolled at another school. They are visited bi-weekly by a WCED social worker.

After the school holidays, it came to our attention that one of the perpetrators was in the same school as one of the victims.

The WCED immediately contacted the school and made the Principal aware of the alleged perpetrators role in the incident at the previous school. Support and advice was provided to the principal, staff and parents of the victim on how to deal with this matter.

A contract was then drawn up by the school, signed by the alleged perpetrators parents, which clearly outlines various restrictions in terms of any contact between the learners.

It was determined that the alleged perpetrator would not have an opportunity for any contact with the victim during the school day, including break times. To prevent this contact, it was decided that he would be secluded to one particular area of the playground and that he would be under the supervision of a teacher. A roster was drawn up for the teachers’ supervision sessions and it was made clear that should the learner transgress, he would face disciplinary action.

This implementation of the contract is being monitored by the school management, as well as the district.

The content of the arrangements were drafted into a contract which was signed by all the involved parties, including the victims parents.

The recent allegations, raised in the article, regarding the alleged perpetrator and the victim’s sister is of extreme concern. The matter has been dealt with by the school and the school social worker.

We encourage any parent to please report any threats of this kind to the school immediately so that the relevant disciplinary action can be taken. We would encourage these steps to be taken in any school in our province.

We are absolutely appalled by this incident. It is of great concern to us that learners of such a young age are not only aware of such behaviour but are allegedly engaging in it.

Bronagh Hammond is the director of communications at the Western Cape education department.

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