Decision to stop school nutrition violates pupils' rights to a meal: Equal Education
The right to education and the right to nutrition are interdependent and should not be separated, Equal Education argued on Thursday.
Equal Education has approached the Pretoria high court asking for a declaratory order that there is a duty on the government to ensure that meals are provided to all pupils who qualify to benefit from the national school nutrition programme.
The organisation is also asking the court to order that, within five days, national and provincial education departments should provide plans to implement their constitutional duty of providing meals to the children.
It said it went to court because the department of education refused to reinstate the school nutrition programme that feeds nine million pupils.
Arguing on behalf of Equal Education during a virtual hearing on Thursday, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi asked the court to reject the state’s defence that the right to education did not include nutrition.
“The right to nutrition and education are interdependent and should not be separated,” Ngcukaitobi argued.
He said there was chaos in provinces as they did not know when the department would reinstate the school nutrition programme.
“Millions of children go hungry every day. Hunger is a problem in our country. The minister and the MECs are playing games with the court, the parents and children,” Ngcukaitobi argued.
If the government was allowed to adopt an attitude that it could stop the provision of meals and reinstate it at a time it deemed fit, it would be violating the right of pupils to nutrition, said Ngcukaitobi.
He said pupils were trapped between parents who were not able to provide food and the government that was denying that it had an obligation to provide food.
“Food was taken away from the learners when lockdown was announced. The government said it was going to reinstate these meals when schools reopened. The promise made by the state was not fulfilled. It said food would be distributed on June 22.
“No-one has a clue as to whether the children are going to get food today or tomorrow. We have these children who have not received food since March when the programme was stopped,” Ngcukaitobi argued.
Children should not be taught on an empty stomach. “Nothing can be more undignified than starvation. Children will be driven to starvation. This application is to prevent the inevitable starvation,” he argued.
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