South Africa, Durban – The employment of 200 000 teaching assistants and 100 000 general assistants at schools across the country has raised concerns about the safety of pupils because of inadequate vetting and shortcomings in the sexual offenders’ register.
Education departments already have to deal with teachers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct, with the SA Council for Educators (SACE) annual report saying it had received 92 sexual-related complaints in the financial year 2019/20.
Thembinkosi Ndhlovu, the SACE spokesperson, said the council has decided to demand that each applicant seeking to register with SACE should submit a police clearance certificate which is not older than six months.
“SACE also submits an applicant’s details to the Department of Justice for vetting against the National Register for Sexual Offenders (NRSO),” he said.
The council has de-registered 17 teachers in 2019/20 who were found guilty of sexual misconduct and entered them into the register of persons who are unfit to work with children.
Chairperson of the KZN Parents Association, Vee Gani, said while there were many good teachers, there were others who took advantage of pupils.
Gani added that parents are afraid to come forward because there is a stigma attached to sexual grooming or misconduct.
“I’ve known of cases where the educator impregnated children and the parents refused to open a charge because the educator says I’ll pay you R400 a month, and in some communities, that money is important to them,” said Gani.
He said if there was no complainant to pursue a case, SACE cannot de-register teachers.
“We need more people to come out and report these atrocities and talk about what happened. It is the 16 days of activism (campaign for no violence against women and children) and we mustn’t forget that children are also victims here,” said Gani.
National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) chief executive Matekanye Matakanye said in some cases, parents do not cooperate, particularly unemployed parents, because perpetrators give them money to keep quiet.
Matakanye said parents lose trust in the education system because principals protect the perpetrators.
Child rights expert and former director of Childline, Joan van Niekerk, said in the rural provinces, cases are not reported to authorities, SACE or the unions, while some are reported to the police.
Van Niekerk said sometimes the families are prepared to accept payment for damages before the incident is reported.
She said, for example, in Limpopo police negotiated with the mother of a child who was a victim of sexual abuse, and the abuser for R5000 in the first instance, and a crate of beer was payment the second time she said.
“It’s an issue of having a police force that is trustworthy, having a system whereby payment for damages as well as reporting to the police can happen simultaneously and that money or payment is put in trust for the child to get the therapy they need,” said Van Niekerk.
She said teachers, schools, police and traditional leaders need to be educated.
UCT’S Children’s Institute researcher Lucy Jamieson said the national child protection register and the National Register for Sex Offenders were incomplete and do not work properly.
Jamieson said any system of doing background checks was not sufficient because the vast majority of people who have committed offences against women and children are not caught or convicted.
“What we would like to see is that the principals are actually looking at the staff’s history and check the teachers’ history thoroughly,” she said.
National Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the new teachers who they plan to employ will be required to provide clearing documents.
He added that the fact that people do not have previous criminal records does not guarantee safety he said.
“Child molesters can be found anywhere, but in the case of this programme, the department has done the basic vetting.”