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South African Girl with Disability Abused on School Bus

Students With Disabilities Unsafe on the Way to School, in Classroom

School children waiting to board their school transportation. © 2014 Elin Martinez/Human Rights Watch

The video is distressing: A 16-year-old girl with multiple disabilities cowering in her bus seat as she is struck repeatedly by her caregiver. Seconds later the driver appears and drags the girl violently off the bus, dumping her onto the street where she crumples to the ground. They then drive off, leaving her on her own.

The caregiver has been charged in connection with the incident in Johannesburg’s Soweto township and has been released on bail. The government of Gauteng province also intends to bring disciplinary measures against the driver. The mother of the girl is taking legal action against the caregiver.

Sadly, cases of abuse or neglect of children with disabilities are all too common. While most cases remain invisible, this one was caught on camera, and those responsible taken to court.

In a 2015 report, Human Rights Watch showed how discrimination, violence and abuse in some schools harms children with disabilities. Across the country, children with disabilities are often exposed to bullying, physical abuse, and derogatory language on buses, in taxis, and pick-up trucks.

We met many mothers of children with disabilities who worry daily about their children’s safety on the way to school and in their classrooms. In Johannesburg, the mother of a 12-year-old boy with autism told us she removed her son from his school after two serious incidents of violence by teachers. “One day, he came back home. He had damage to his head and scars on his back… The head teacher said one of the teachers was holding [him] down on the floor… [Then] I was told one of the teachers was holding and beating [him] with a stick. … [My son] didn’t want to go to school after that,” she told us. Her son had begun to experience regular epileptic fits after numerous incidents in the school.

Adequate and safe transportation is crucial in enabling children with disabilities to go to school. The government should protect the right to personal mobility of people with disabilities, and ensure transportation is safe and easily accessible to children with disabilities.

Children and parents in South Africa should not have to fear the school run.

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