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South Africa: Rural schools neglected says Human Right Watch

Summary & Comment: In a new report entitled, "Forgotten Schools: Right to Basic Education for Children on Farms in South Africa", Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that advances in the public education system have not reached children on commercial farms. JDN

Author: IRIN NEWS, Johannesburg Date Written: 3 June 2004
Primary Category: Youth & Children Document Origin: irinnews.org
Secondary Category: Southern Region Source URL: http://http:/www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=41400
Key Words: South Africa, education, rural farm schools, gender issues


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Rural schools neglected says Human Rights Watch

Thousands of rural South African children have been prevented from receiving an adequate education, says a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The rights group said in a statement on Thursday that farm schools "provide the only educational opportunity for farm workers' children in South Africa", yet the government had neglected schools on commercial farms.

"Rural children attending farm schools should be enjoying the fruits of South Africa's decade of democracy. Yet the advances made in public education elsewhere in South Africa have yielded few benefits for children on commercial farms," Nobuntu Mbelle, a South Africa researcher in Human Rights Watch's Africa Division, was quoted as saying.

The report on the issue, "Forgotten Schools: Right to Basic Education for Children on Farms in South Africa," was released on Thursday. "The neglect of farm schools - officially known as 'public schools on private property' - results in children attending dilapidated schools, often without running water and electricity. Delivery of these key services is determined in contracts between the state and farm owner. Despite national policies enacted in 1996 that mandate contracts for all schools within six months, the government has yet to negotiate [contracts] with farmers in a majority of instances," said HRW.

The attitude of farm owners to the schools was also a problem. The report documented cases where farm owners or managers prevented learners and teachers from getting to school by locking school facilities or obstructing access otherwise, generally due to a lack of contractual arrangements with the state. Greater effort was needed "to secure the tenure of farm schools". "The South African government is failing to protect the right to a primary education for children living on commercial farms by neither ensuring their access to farm schools nor maintaining the adequacy of learning conditions at these schools," the report charged.

Farm schools constituted 13 percent of all state-funded schools and provided education to about 3 percent of learners in the public school system, yet they ranked "among the poorest in financial resources", the study observed. "Farm children may attend schools without electricity, water, sanitation, suitable buildings or learning materials. Also, children may face harassment from farm owners." This was a contravention of South African legislation requiring that the state, or in some cases the landowner, provide basic services to farm schools.

The report suggested that local government consider waiving the cost of services, such as water and electricity, for farm schools. It noted that the present government had inherited the current situation, which was the result of apartheid-era policies, and faced "enormous challenges in attempting to protect the rights of those living in remote rural areas, particularly the right [to education] of children living on commercial farms". One of the difficulties was that the right of children to be enrolled in farm schools stemmed from their parents working on the farm where the school was located, or on a neighbouring farm. This meant that if a farm worker parent was evicted, "the child has to also leave the property and, in turn, the school - unless the child can find appropriate accommodation near the school to continue attending classes," the report said.

In instances where the management of a farm school was "clearly not operating in the interests of a child receiving an education, the state should consider, as a last resort, the option of expropriating land in the public interest, as provided for by the South African constitution and the Schools Act". Amalgamating farm schools could also be considered.

The lack of state-funded transport from homes to schools further hindered access to education in commercial farm areas. "Two-thirds of the children, some as young as eight years old, who attend farm schools in Limpopo province [in the north], travel to school on foot up to 30 kilometres (18 miles) each morning. Such exhausting conditions adversely affect the ability of these children to adequately participate in activities in the classroom. This results in poor performance, non-attendance or regular absences. In particular, girls face the risk of sexual assault when walking several hours to and from school each day," Human Rights Watch said.

The report called on local government to "play a role in cooperating in the provision of transport" for learners.

For the full report go to: http://hrw.org/  

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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