Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations to the South African government relating to the education system and its response to sexual violence against girls. In addition to these specific recommendations, the recommendations included in two prior reports on violence against women are of further relevance: the recommendations made in Violence Against Women in South Africa: The State Response to Domestic Violence and Rape (1995), and South Africa: Violence Against Women and the Medico-Legal System (1997) are included in the appendix to this report.2 Some of the measures proposed in prior recommendations as well as those set out below have already been adopted or are being considered by the national and some provincial governments; others have received less attention.
· Adopt a National Plan of Action on Sexual Violence and Harassment in Schools
A plan of action should be developed in wide consultation with all stakeholders, including representatives of pupils, teachers, principals, parents, social workers, government officials responsible for gender issues, NGOs offering support and advocacy services to victims, and others. It should include at a minimum, where not already in place:
· Guidelines to schools detailing the appropriate response to allegations by pupils of rape, sexual assault, or harassment, whether by teachers or fellow pupils, including sections relating to the creation of accessible school procedures by which pupils can make confidential complaints, the prompt and effective investigation of such complaints, prompt and appropriate disciplinary action including due process protections for the persons alleged to have perpetrated the offense, referral to the criminal justice system, the report of sexual misconduct cases to the provincial department of education, and support services;
· Appropriate procedures governing the consequences for teachers or pupils who have been convicted on criminal charges of sexual violence, or who have been found after an administrative hearing procedure complying with due process protections to have engaged in sexual misconduct;
· A provision for funding of counseling and medical services for victims of sexual violence;
· A code of conduct for teachers and pupils that expressly prohibits sexual violence, harassment, and other sexual misconduct in schools. The code of conduct should be distributed to all schools and its contents widely publicized among those in the education system. Teachers should be obliged to follow the code of conduct as part of their employment contract;
· A provision for compulsory education and training for pupils, teachers, and principals on issues related to sexual violence and harassment and gender discrimination, including methods for the early identification of, and intervention to prevent, abusive behavior;
· The formal appointment in every provincial education department of a director responsible for implementing policy on gender-based violence in schools, with appropriate authority and a sufficient budget;
· Mechanisms to hold schools accountable for failure to adequately respond to allegations of sexual violence through school-based administrative measures or for failure to cooperate with investigations conducted by the criminal justice system.
In addition, the following steps should be considered:
· Laws that make failure to report child abuse to relevant authorities a criminal offense should be widely publicized and enforced, and all school employees should be educated about their obligations to report child abuse to the relevant authorities.
· Teachers facing allegations of sexual misconduct should at a minimum be separated during classroom time from the complaining pupils. Teachers should receive notice of allegations against them as well as an opportunity to be heard by disciplinary structures. Teachers facing allegations of rape or sexual assault should be suspended with pay, the allegations reported to the police, and the suspension continued pending police investigation and trial, or the outcome of a disciplinary hearing if the case does not proceed to trial.
· Individuals who have been convicted of sexual assault or rape should not be permitted to teach anywhere in the South African school system. Before the employment of any teacher, schools should review teachers' records for incidents of sexual abuse, including inquiring with prior employers and police. School principals should be required to report confirmed incidents of sexual misconduct by teachers to provincial departments of education, which information should be maintained in a confidential database that should be checked prior to a school hiring any teacher.
· Pupils facing allegations of sexual assault or rape should receive guidance and counseling and should face disciplinary action if the allegations are sustained. Disciplinary action should have rehabilitation as a central aim and should ensure that children are dealt with in a manner that is appropriate to their well-being, proportionate both to their circumstances and the offense, and consistent with their right to education. Appropriate disciplinary action may take a variety of forms, including reprimand and warning, supervision within the school, transfer to a different classroom, and the use of home or alternative schooling. Suspension or expulsion should be a measure of last resort when another pupil is in serious physical danger.
· In accordance with section 9 of the 1996 South African Schools Act, provincial departments of education should issue notices in the provincial government gazettes specifying the behavior by pupils which may constitute serious misconduct justifying expulsion, and the disciplinary procedures to be followed in such cases. The national Department of Education should work with provincial departments to develop these guidelines on a uniform basis, ensure that sexual abuse is addressed within them, and disseminate them widely among school principals and other relevant stakeholders.
· Because girls often do not have the same access to interdicts or formal orders of protection as women, the creation of a school-based interdict or restraining order to be enforced on school grounds by school employees to protect the victim's safety should be considered.
· School governing bodies should be required to address the problem of sexual violence and its prevention as a regular agenda item, and special meetings should be held to address specific cases. Every governing body should designate a member, preferably female, whom pupils, parents, or teachers concerned about sexual abuse can approach for assistance and who is responsible for ensuring that policies on sexual abuse are followed. Training should be made available to these individuals by provincial departments of education.
· Schools should foster collaboration with relevant NGOs working on rape, sexual assault, child abuse, or domestic violence issues, for the purposes of providing training, counseling, and advocacy services.
· Provincial departments of education and health should take steps to ensure that the health care and psychological needs of victims of sexual assault are met and that victims receive appropriate treatment for associated injuries, infections, and related trauma. This should include the provision to victims of medical assistance consistent with the prevailing best practice on post Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) exposure prophylaxis and to all pupils and teachers of current, culturally appropriate, and clear information on HIV/AIDS.
· Provincial departments of education should take steps to prevent the practice of virginity testing in schools and should develop educational materials to address the issues surrounding this practice.
Children and the Justice System
· In accordance with current government efforts to improve the justice system and provide support to victims, children required to give evidence in court should receive pre-trial legal counseling and be adequately prepared for trial, and have access to intermediaries who can translate court proceedings into "child-friendly language," and to facilities to enable them to give testimony outside the presence of the accused.
· Pupils should be informed of their rights within the justice system. The national and provincial education departments should develop mechanisms for coordination with and improved access to schools by officials of the criminal justice system, including police, prosecutors, or social workers, and for officials who face problems in carrying out their work in schools to have recourse to authorities within the education department to ensure a school's cooperation.
· In order to inform the development of effective responses to sexual violence in schools, steps should be taken to improve the collection of data concerning crimes of violence against pupils, whether by schools, provincial education departments, the police, or other appropriate bodies such as Stats SA, the government statistical service.
To the South African Council of Educators and the Teachers' Unions of South Africa:
· Cooperate with provincial departments of education to devise an awareness and advocacy campaign to combat sexual violence and harassment in schools in line with the National Plan of Action;
· Revoke the licenses of teachers found guilty by an administrative or criminal tribunal of serious misconduct, including the rape, sexual assault, or physical abuse of a student.
· Increase instruction of future teachers on gender equity, including lessons on the harms of sexual violence and harassment in the school environment as a discriminatory impediment to education, and develop ways to intervene to stop sexual harassment before it escalates to violence;
· Develop in-service training programs for experienced teachers on the prevention of, and response to, sexual violence and harassment in their schools. Offer these workshops throughout the country. Appoint a faculty member within each teacher training college to coordinate training and research efforts;
· Educate teachers on their responsibilities under any code of conduct that is developed.
· Provide technical support and funding for programs to train South African teachers in gender equity and strategies for preventing sexual violence and harassment in the school environment. Support programs that educate teachers, parents, and society at large about the harm of sexual violence and harassment to girl children and their education;
· Mobilize strong national and international support for school-based human rights education programs to teach students about their human rights, including the right to be free from violence on grounds of gender, and the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
· Fund governmental and nongovernmental organizations providing direct medical, counseling, and support services to women and children who have been victims of violence and sexual assault in South Africa;
· Fund initiatives to provide clear, current, accessible, and culturally appropriate information on HIV/AIDS transmission and the basics of AIDS as a disease in the curriculum of primary and secondary schools, in teacher training, and in the training of school administrators;
· Fund efforts to provide medical assistance consistent with the prevailing post HIV/AIDS exposure prophylaxis to decrease the likelihood of contracting the virus for victims of sexual violence;
· Encourage South Africa and other nations that pledged at the Dakar World Education for All Forum to develop or strengthen National Education for All Action Plans to detail strategies for addressing school-based gender violence in their National Action Plans;
· The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child should inquire into sexual violence and harassment in schools and encourage countries to make efforts to address school-based gender violence. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education should investigate the problem of gender-based violence in schools and its impact on children and the right to education. U.N. agencies, including UNICEF and UNESCO, should support programs that teach educators and students about gender equality, the rights of the child, and human rights;
2 The general recommendations set forth in prior Human Rights Watch reports on violence against women in South Africa are included in Appendix A.