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Children with Disabilities in Dire Straights

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Over 597 000 South African children with disabilities did not attend school in 2015, almost double the 280 000 estimated in 2001.

This is just one of the shocking findings in a report prepared by a range of high level advocacy groups in the South African inclusive education and disability rights arena.

Known as the Right to Education for Children with Disabilities Alliance, they have provided an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was done in response to South Africa’s Baseline Country Report of March 2013.

Some of the key issues discussed in the December 2016 report, just released, are:

  • Misspending of more than USD125 million allocated by the Treasury for the expansion of inclusive education;
  • Children remaining on waiting lists for special schools for up to five years;
  • The lack of provision for learners with disabilities before and beyond the ages of 7 and 18 years. There is particular concern about the upper age limits in primary schools, as some learners as old as 17 or 18 remain in primary schools.
  • The state’s failure to assist learners by providing devices or additional classroom support.  Most parents must carry this burden. As many cannot afford to do so, their children do not go to school;
  • The lack of legislative protection for learners at special schools and hostels.  There is a high incidence of abuse. Protective measures in the Children’s Act do not apply to special schools as they are not categorised as ‘child and youth centres’;
  • The Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) curriculum. This curriculum was introduced in 2012, yet by 2015, 17 out of 22 special schools for visually-impaired learners reported not having received a single textbook, workbook or teacher’s guide for the CAPS curriculum in braille. Only 150 of the more than 600 CAPS textbooks had been adapted into braille.
  • The lack of professional qualifications specifically for teaching children with intellectual and visual impairment, autism, or severe and complex support needs; and
  • The poor data collection and analysis that is leading to inadequate monitoring and reporting of this sector.

“We are extremely concerned by the ways in which the South African schooling system compromises the rights and dignity of children with disabilities,” said Robyn Beere, Director of Inclusive Education South Africa.

“For example, private space is seldom allocated to personal care needs and buildings are inaccessible to children using wheelchairs, who then have to crawl or be carried. The discriminatory attitudes and practices that prevail in many schools ‒ if children are fortunate enough to have access in the first place ‒ have not been addressed.”

The South African Constitution guarantees the right to basic education. More specifically, section 29(1) (a) states that the right to education is unqualified, not subject to the availability of resources, and therefore must be directly and immediately implemented.

In its five-year strategic plan (2015/16-2019/20), the Department of Basic Education (DBE) committed to strengthen inclusive education. However, says Silomo Khumalo, Researcher at SECTION27, it has failed to translate this into meaningful action plans, targets or budgets.

“Provisions related to inclusive education are scattered across a few pieces of legislation. The existing framework does not place clear obligations on the state to ensure that children with disabilities can access quality education within the general education system.”

Comprehensive, transparent and equitable inclusive education budgets are obviously a necessary component of this. “Should the state defend its failure to act on the grounds of inadequate resources, South African courts require a rational explanation of why the government lacks resources, given the immediacy of the right. This was outlined in the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ comment on the Right to Inclusive Education in September last year.”

The report makes numerous recommendations to improve conditions for children with disabilities. These span admissions policies and practices, to suitable transport for children. The report can be viewed online at

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