Sexual abuse in schools has reached intolerable levels

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The Gauteng department of education is in crisis, along with our schools. This is an undeniable fact.

From being unable to place learners in schools on time at the beginning of the year, to crowded classrooms, overburdened teachers and insufficient learning material, we clearly have a difficult situation in our hands. All these deserve immediate attention.

The increasing spate of sexual abuse in our schools is of even graver concern.

Towards the end of 2017 Gauteng province was shaken by reports of a scholar patroller who allegedly sexually assaulted 87 learners, some as young as six years old.

A few weeks ago, horrific videos of sexual acts at Reiger Park Secondary School in Boksburg were leaked and circulated on social media. This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are more cases of sexual misconduct that remain unreported.

Tragically, the examples cited above are mirrored in far too many schools.

It is disgusting to learn that the very people that are trusted with the well-being of our children are the ones who abuse them. To make things worse, sexual abuse in Gauteng schools goes beyond allegations against patrollers as it also implicates principals and educators, indicating that the scourge has infiltrated every level of the education system.

When will this filth and depravity in our schools stop? How do we begin to make sure that schools are safe and secure? The levels of abuse have reached such proportions that we cannot ignore it. The message behind these assaults is clear - it is the ultimate bid for power by the perpetrators. Thus, to deal with such behaviour, we need more than political rhetoric or the pretence that all is under control.

We note and appreciate that the MEC is pursuing criminal charges against the offenders. These people must be arrested and jailed. They must be removed from the teaching register and their employment record must reflect their dismissal for sexual offences against minors.

However, current processes only address one known misconduct in one school, until another scandal erupts again in another school.

Issuing press statements, holding press conferences and school meetings isn't enough. What happens to the affected schools and learners after these meetings and conferences? What steps are taken by the Gauteng department of education to ensure the exposure to risk in all our schools is minimised, if not eliminated?

Unless the circle is broken the department is fighting a losing battle. The need for education and accountability in all our schools cannot be emphasised enough.

We therefore call on the department of education to effectively address the epidemic of sexual abuse.

One way of doing this could be to broaden the scope of sex education in schools, with emphasis on sexual exploitation and abuse. Beyond this, parents and the community need to be well-equipped to create a platform where the young can share their encounters at schools.

Another measure would be to enact policies governing electronic communication between school employees and students.

We cannot sit idly and wait for the next offender to strike. The time is now, let's start rebuilding our schools and the trust communities used to have in the education system.