Acts of sexual violence and violence against girls at school remain unchallenged by school officials and exact a terrible cost to educational quality and equality in South Africa-in addition to violating girls' right to bodily integrity. A school environment where sexual violence and harassment is tolerated compromises the right of girl children to enjoy education on equal terms with boys-a lesson that is damaging to all children and at sharp variance with South Africa's constitution and its international legal obligations.
Quality education is predicated on all students being able to participate in education safely and without fear. The response of the education system to the issue of sexual violence and harassment goes to the heart of how a society responds to the challenge of creating gender equality. Children can best learn respect for human rights and gender equality where those principles are safeguarded and experienced in their own lives.
The South African education system is uniquely situated to play an important part in combating gender inequality. It is not only the curriculum that teaches children respect for human rights; the context in which learning takes place also informs the lesson. If the South African education system is ever to achieve nondiscriminatory education for all children, it must prioritize and place full political and financial support behind efforts to end gender violence in its schools. If the South African government is serious about its pledge to educational equality, the national and provincial education departments must coordinate to take immediate steps to address the violence girls face in school by fulfilling its responsibility to prohibit and protect girls against such abuses. Going forward, schools need to find ways to heal, rehabilitate, and build a culture of respect for girls and to address the trauma created by the violent crime experienced by so many children.
The government is already taking some important steps to achieve this vision, in the face of great challenges created by the legacy of apartheid and the resource limitations of the present. Human Rights Watch hopes that this report will assist in further strengthening those efforts. We also hope that this analysis of the problem of sexual violence in South African schools and the government response to that violence can inform debates on similar issues elsewhere in the world. Girls everywhere face gender-based violence in schools that impedes equal access to education. Stronger efforts to address such violence are essential to achieving the aim, stated by the World Education Forum in the 2000 Dakar Framework for Action, of gender equality in education by 2015 with full and equal access to and achievement in education for girls.