MEDIA STATEMENT: SECTION27 TAKES SACE SANCTIONS ON CASES OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT ON REVIEW
In 2019, SECTION27 received two complaints of corporal punishment. In the first instance, a learner attending grade two at a primary school in Gauteng was hit on the back of his head with a PVC pipe by his teacher.
In the second instance, a teacher at a primary school in Limpopo struck a grade five learner on her cheek and then on her head. The learner experienced a lasting bleed from her ears which required her to visit several doctors, resulting in her absenteeism from school. Consequently, the learner was forced to repeat grade five. The parents of both learners have shared that their children felt afraid to return to school.
The South African Council for Educators (SACE) conducted disciplinary hearings for both teachers, who pleaded guilty to their misconduct. However, despite their admissions of guilt, and the extent of harm suffered by the two learners, SECTION27 considers the sanctions imposed by SACE to be insubstantial and inadequate. The sentences imposed on both teachers included their removal from the roll of educators. However, this sanction was suspended for 10 years – allowing the teachers to continue working for as long as they are not found guilty of another misconduct. In addition, the teachers received a fine of R15 000, of which R5 000 was suspended, leaving a mere R10 000.00 payable to SACE over twelve months.
We consider this decision to be invalid, unlawful, and a breach of SACE’s constitutional obligation to protect learners’ rights. Therefore, in light of the severity of the injuries sustained by the two learners, and the unlawfulness of the conduct of teachers involved, the Centre for Child Law (CCL) and the parents of the two children will challenge SACE’s decision to impose such lenient sanctions on the implicated teachers. SECTION27 is representing the applicants.
The South African Schools Act banned the use of corporal punishment in 1996. Despite the ban, incidents of corporal punishment persist. Research shows that corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure is still prevalent across schools in South Africa. The Statistics South Africa General Household Survey 2018 indicates that as many as one million learners reported that they experienced corporal punishment in 2018.
The impact of corporal punishment on learners is severe, as the Center for Child Law highlighted in a report titled “Promoting effective enforcement of the prohibition against corporal punishment in South African schools.” The evidence summarised in the report suggests that corporal punishment is psychologically harmful to a learner and negatively impacts a child’s ability to perform and participate confidently at school. The report, therefore, recommends more robust mechanisms in South Africa to enforce the corporal punishment ban.
We consider SACE’s intervention and sanction inadequate as a form of future deterrence. We have therefore launched a review of these decisions in The High Court of South Africa Gauteng Division.
Registered educators are bound to the Council’s code of ethics which prescribes that the interactions between teacher and their learners must, above all, uphold the constitutional rights of learners.
As the custodian of the teaching profession, SACE has the responsibility to take appropriate action against teachers who violate the code by practicing corporal punishment and infringing on learners’ rights to be free from harm and violence.
SACE has indicated its intention to oppose the matter, and it’s expected to provide the court Registrar with all records relating to the making of the challenged decisions, together with reasons, by 21 January 2021.
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