Given the alarming levels of violence against women and children in our country, schools undoubtedly carry a great responsibility for the welfare of learners in their care. Currently, the Department of Basic Education is responsible for approximately 12 million learners in the schooling system in both public and independent schools. Of this half are girls aged between 7 and 18 years, spanning Grades one to twelve. Hence, the 16 Days of Activism on No Violence against Women and Children Campaign is of particular significance for us as a sector. In fact learner wellbeing and safety is our responsibility for 365 days of the year.
As Africans we can truly agree that it takes a village to raise a child, however, in recent years it has become more evident that it is members of our villages that are violating our children. So, in essence the village has turned on its own! On the proverbial eve of the celebration of our 20 years of democracy can we truly say we are free? Can we claim to be free when our children are not free to play in the streets, when our young men are so angry and inflict so much pain on our nation, so much pain that even crimes committed in times of war are a far cry to our daily reality as a nation?
While crime against children takes place in the home and within communities we also acknowledge that many of them also take place in our schools. During this period the department reflects on progress made and the challenges to be addressed in ensuring our learners are equipped with the necessary life skills, knowledge and attitudes to face the reality that ours is a country in which violence is the norm rather than the exception. To this end, the department has made a concerted effort to address violence in general and gender-based violence in particular.
The new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) has a dedicated subsection on gender, including gender-based violence within a broader human rights frame. The department has also trained teachers on the guidelines for the prevention and management of sexual violence and harassment in public schools. This is reinforced by an on-going advocacy programme guided by a handbook for learners on how to prevent sexual abuse in schools. The book entitled “Speak Out against Abuse: Youth report Sexual Abuse” has been widely distributed to schools and the booklet can also be downloaded from the departmental website. This advocacy programme is supported by a learner focused website to help young people with understanding, preventing and reporting sexual abuse. The website address, www.speakoutfreely.co.za went live in 2011. The website will further be used to highlight other issues of concern with regards to young people, including drug and alcohol abuse and school safety in general. Furthermore, the Partnership Protocol with the South African Police Service also contributes to the effort to making schools safe spaces for children and support schools on issues of violence, ranging from bullying to sexual violence.
Earlier this year, in response to the horrific rape of teenager Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp, we as a department, in partnership with Lead SA, embarked on the Stop Rape Campaign which saw 10.2 million learners recite and commit to a pledge based on the Bill of Responsibilities, which included a statement on violence and rape. The overarching aim was to raise awareness and educate learners on rape and gender-based violence. Although, the campaign was successful in encouraging young people to talk, violence against women and children continues to remain at abnormal levels in our society.
As a Department we have attempted to view the scourge from many different perspectives and we consistently find that the greatest challenge facing our schools is the lack of broader parent, community and societal support. As a nation we have become desensitised to the violence inflicted on vulnerable groups in our society. Often the broader public turns a blind eye to aggressive and violent responses to any kind of conflict. The South African Schools Act rightly states: Schools will be improved only through the joint efforts of parents, educators, learners, members of their local communities and various education departments. Schools alone cannot combat and eradicate violence against women and children; it has to be a collective effort that becomes part of the broader psyche of the nation.
The department has put in place reasonable measurers to keep schools safe, although they might be not always be adequate in the face of the scourge. We have partnered with sister Departments, like SAPS and NGOs working in this area to deal with this scourge. We call upon everybody to work with us to combat violence against women and children. What are you doing to reduce violence in our country? As a nation, we dare not stop until all women and children are freed from the tyranny of violence and abuse.