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«Human Rights Watch defends the rights of people worldwide. We scrupulously investigate abuses, expose the facts widely, and pressure those with power ...»

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If the current trend of building new special schools to accommodate learners with disabilities continues, 3,500 new special schools will have to be built … Because this is not feasible, a radically different approach needs to be followed to meet the needs of children and youth with disabilities in an inclusive education system.362 The Department of Basic Education notes that special schools will only be able to cater to 250 to 300 students per special school.363 Creating new special schools will not solve South Africa’s current challenges. Indeed, evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch suggests that a continued focus on building more special schools may only solve a simple access requirement for a few more hundred children on an annual basis, and could exacerbate many violations outlined in this report.

In line with its international obligations and guidance provided by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,364 South Africa should ensure its priorities for spending on the special school system urgently shift to investment that guarantees inclusion. The government should accelerate progress to comply with “universal design” measures and provide for individual accommodation measures where they are needed.365 This will ensure mainstream and full-service schools can accommodate the vast majority of children with disabilities on an equal basis.

361 Department of Basic Education, “Progress Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6: 2001-2012,” presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, November 6, 2012, slides 36, 37, 53, 54.

362 Department of Basic Education, “Report on the Implementation of Education, White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education. An Overview for the Period: 2013-2015,” May 2015, p. 70.

363 Ibid., p. 19.

364 Op cit., p. 33.

365 United Nations Human Rights Council, “Thematic study on the right of persons with disabilities to education, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,” A/HRC/25/29, December 18, 2013.

79 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH | AUGUST 2015 Lack of Adequate Information and Support Services The Schools Act states that the placement of a “learner with special education needs” must take into account the parents’ rights and wishes.366 The Children’s Act requires that “in all matters concerning the care, protection and well-being of a child the standard that the child’s best interest is of paramount importance, must be applied.”367 This brings it in line with South Africa’s international, regional, and constitutional obligations, which emphasize the need for governments to guarantee the “best interests of the child” in all actions related to children,368 where parents must ensure it is their “basic concern at all times.”369 However, parents consistently said they faced multiple difficulties while navigating a complex education system, in addition to grappling with their child’s disability. According to many organizations working with parents and children with disabilities on a daily basis, parents seldom have effective access to the right level of information or necessary support services to assess the best interests of their children.370 The Children’s Act requires due consideration to be given to providing the “child and the child’s caregiver with the necessary support services.”371 The UN Committee on the Rights

of the Child indicates that support to parents should include:

The education of parent/s and siblings, not only on the disability and its causes but also on each child’s unique physical and mental requirements;

psychological support that is sensitive to the stress and difficulties imposed on families of children with disabilities … material support in the form of special allowances as well as consumable supplies and necessary equipment … deemed necessary for the child with a disability to live a 366 South African Schools Act 1996, ch.2, s. 5.

367 South African Children’s Act 2005, s. 9 (‘Best interests of children is paramount.’) 368 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, art. 28(2); CRC, art. 3.

369 African Charter, art. 20(1)(a).

370 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Elphick, program manager, Afrika Tikkun, Johannesburg, October 2014; Human Rights Watch interview with Childline Limpopo team, Polokwane, Limpopo, October 2014; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Caroline Taylor, client support liaison and information, Inclusive Education South Africa, December 2014.

371 South African Children’s Act 2005, s. 11(1)(d).

–  –  –

Jean Elphick, a program manager at Afrika Tikkun, told Human Rights Watch:

Parents don’t know what the system is so they go [to government agencies and schools] and will be turned away and they don’t know what their rights are. Often [their] first, second, third encounters are very negative and no one shows them what to do with this child. For parents with no income, using public transport, struggling to communicate in professional language, what chance do they have to navigate the system? If they do, they are extremely lucky, extremely persistent, and they don’t give up despite being [thrown] around for eight years. 373 While South Africa’s Constitution protects the right of access to information,374 a





representative of Inclusive Education South Africa, told Human Rights Watch:

Open access to information is not a right that is made available.... Quite a lot of blaming of parents [by government officials and schools] goes on...375 The government’s inclusive education policy relies on professional multi-disciplinary district based teams being set up in every district to support special schools and other public ordinary schools in the inclusion of students with disabilities.376 These teams should include social workers, therapists, educational psychologists and district officials.

However, the government has acknowledged that not all support teams in full-service schools or special schools are fully functional, particularly in rural areas.377 When Human 372 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “General Comment 9 (2006),” para. 41, p. 11.

373 Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Elphick, program manager, Afrika Tikkun, Johannesburg, October 24, 2014.

374 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, s. 32(1).

375 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Caroline Taylor, client support liaison and information, Inclusive Education South Africa, December 2014.

376 Department of Education, “Conceptual and Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of Inclusive Education: Special Schools as Resource Centres,” Directorate: Inclusive Education, June 2005.

377 Parliamentary Question 1270 by Ms H S Boshoff (DA), Date of Publication of Internal Question Paper: 02/09/2014, Reply received October 2014 and accompanying attachment ‘Number of learners with disabilities admitted to ordinary schools in 2013.’

–  –  –

In the absence of such teams, NGOs provide an essential bridge between the education and care system and parents, breaking down information barriers by providing relevant phone numbers or encouraging parents to reach out to people they know in governmental multi-disciplinary teams.379 Some institutions have tried to create online directories with relevant information on disability-focused services, but this information may not be accessible to many parents with low literacy and those who live outside major cities.380 In many cases, medical officials also plug the information and referral holes.

Rural clinics and hospitals are often the only point of support for many parents of children with disabilities living in rural areas, except where local disabled people’s organizations or local parent support groups provide services or visits.381 Human Rights Watch found that medical advice mostly focused on ensuring parents understood children’s disabilities and development issues from a medical perspective.

However, in several cases, medical staff advised parents on the type of school their children should attend, which invariably meant special schools.

378 Human Rights Watch interview with members of Siphilisa Isizwe DPO, Kwa-Ngwanase (Manguzi), KwaZulu-Natal, November 2014; Human Rights Watch interview with Difference Motseo, officer, Down Syndrome Limpopo, October 2014.

379 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Caroline Taylor, client support liaison and information, Inclusive Education South Africa, November 2014; Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra Ambrose, national coordinator, Disabled Children’s Action Group, Cape Town, October 2014; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with WonderBoy Qaji, chairperson, Disabled Youth South Africa, November 2014; Human Rights Watch interview with Professor Nareadi Pasha, Chair of Inclusive Education, University of South Africa, Pretoria, November 2014.

380 For example, see “Disability Allsorts: A Directory of Organisations and Resources for People with Disabilities in South Africa,” compiled by Ilse Langenhoven and Keith Richmond, University of South Africa http://www.unisa.ac.za/contents/management/arcswid/docs/Disability_directory_allsorts09.pdf (accessed September 2014); Child Care Information Centre, “Directory of Services 2011 for children with special needs in the Cape Town area”, http://www.specialneedsdirectory.org.za/ (accessed April 1, 2015). Its website states, “The Directory of Services for Children with Special Needs is an extremely useful book is published by the Child Care Information Centre at Red Cross Children's Hospital. It includes information on government and non-government services relating to health, educational and social needs, and anyone working with children will find it a great resource. It costs R60 per copy, with a reduction for bulk orders of 10 or more.” 381 Human Rights Watch interview with Difference Motseo, officer, Down Syndrome SA Limpopo; Human Rights Watch interview with representatives of the Disabled Children Action Group (DICAG) chapter in Northern Cape, Kimberley, November 2014.

“COMPLICIT IN EXCLUSION” 82 Poverty, illiteracy, and a lack of alternative sources of information mean parents will often accept the decision of a doctor, perceived to be the person who knows best.382 “To question a doctor’s decision would be to doubt their authority. So if a doctor has recommended a special school then that is it,” said Caroline Taylor, client support liaison manager of Inclusive Education South Africa.383 Professor Lorna Jacklin, a doctor in Johannesburg, told Human Rights Watch that she often recommends schools for the children she treats. This requires planning as accurately as possible when she refers the children she treats to special schools: “We are planning their education, we give parents the best options … it’s damaging to place children in the wrong environment.”384 This doctor regularly visits or asks for reports on special schools and seeks information on which disabilities are catered for in schools in order to make an accurate and informed choice on school placements.385 However, in Kwa-Ngwanase, which has only one hospital, medical and therapist advice recommended that most children with disabilities interviewed be placed in two special schools. One of the schools had a reported intake of 260 learners,386 with a waiting list of 180 students.387 Despite a reported wave of new enrollments at the second special school in the 2015 school year, nongovernmental representatives told Human Rights Watch that both schools continue to have very long waiting lists and do not guarantee a school placement to many children as a result of such lists.388 The government’s policy on inclusive education recognizes that “community-based clinics are in the best position to conduct an initial assessment [of children’s disabilities] and 382 Human Rights Watch interviews with Ancella Ramjas, director, Down Syndrome South Africa, Pretoria, October 2014;

Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Elphick, program manager, Afrika Tikkun, Johannesburg, October 2014.

383 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Caroline Taylor, client support liaison and information, Inclusive Education South Africa, December 2014.

384Human Rights Watch interview with Professor Lorna Jacklin MD, head of Children’s Clinic, CM Johannesburg Hospital, Johannesburg, October 2014.

385 Ibid.

386 Khulani Special School – Strive for Success, “About School: The Future,” undated, http://khulanischool.co.za/?page_id=29 (accessed May 18, 2015).

387 Extract from “Speaking notes for MEC for Education in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Mr Senzo Mchunu on the occasion of the official handover of project and sod-turning event at Khulani Special School in Umkhanyakude,” 08 June 2012.

388 Human Rights Watch interview with members of Siphilisa Isizwe DPO, Kwa-Ngwanase (Manguzi), November 2014 ;

Human Rights Watch interview with legal and policy team, Section 27, Johannesburg, May 2015; Section 27, “Submission on the Right to Education for Persons with Disabilities in South Africa to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, March 2015, p. 7.

83 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH | AUGUST 2015 plan a suitable course of action in conjunction with parents and personnel from various social services such as education.” The policy further states that it is essential that links are established “between community-based clinics and other service providers and the education and training system” to ensure such services continue throughout learning.389 To build inclusive education in remote areas, the government should ensure that all medical and therapy staff who have contact with children with disabilities are aware of the government’s inclusive education policy. Moreover, in line with its own objectives, the government should ensure multi-disciplinary teams are set up and are well-resourced in areas where services have not been prioritized and where large numbers of children with disabilities remain out of school.390 389 Department of Basic Education, “Education White Paper 6,” p. 33.

390 Department of Basic Education, “Progress Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6: 2001-2012,” presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, November 6, 2012, slides 59-61.

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