In schools across South Africa, thousands of girls of every race and economic group are encountering sexual violence and harassment that impede their access to education, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released this week.
(Johannesburg, March 27, 2001) In schools across South Africa, thousands
of girls of every race and economic group are encountering sexual
violence and harassment that impede their access to education, Human
Rights Watch charged in a report released today.
School authorities rarely challenge the perpetrators, and many girls
interrupt their education or leave school altogether because they feel
vulnerable to sexual assault, Human Rights Watch said.
"Girls are learning that sexual violence and abuse are an inescapable
part of going to school every day -- so they don't go," said Erika
George, counsel to the Academic Freedom Program at Human Rights Watch
and the author of the report. "South African
officials say they're committed to educational equality. If they mean
it, they must address the problem of sexual violence in schools, without
The 138-page report, "Scared at School: Sexual Violence Against Girls in
South African Schools," is based on extensive interviews with victims,
their parents, teachers, and school administrators in KwaZulu-Natal,
Gauteng, and the Western Cape. It documents how girls
are raped, sexually abused, sexually harassed, and assaulted
at school by their male classmates and even by their teachers.
According to the report, girls have been attacked in school toilet
facilities, in empty classrooms and corridors, hostel rooms and
dormitories. Teachers can misuse their authority to sexually abuse
girls, sometimes reinforcing sexual demands with threats of corporal
punishment or promises of better grades, or even money.
Human Rights Watch called on the South African government and its
National Department of Education to develop a national plan of action to
address the problem of school-based sexual violence, in broad
cooperation with students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.
The South African government has acknowledged the problem's severity and
made significant efforts to improve the state response to violence
against women. But the Human Rights Watch report found that school
officials still fail to protect their girl pupils from rape, sexual
assault, and sexual harassment. The government does not even collect
data on the incidence of sexual violence and harassment occurring in
schools, or the number of girls who leave school due to such violence.
While it is mandatory to report child abuse in South Africa, girls who
report sexual abuse generally receive hostile or indifferent responses
from school authorities. According to the report, schools often promise
to handle matters internally, and urge girls' families not to alert
police or draw publicity to problems.
The South African government has constitutional and international legal
obligations to protect women and girls from violence. International
human rights treaties that South Africa has ratified, as well as
national legislation, require the government to provide all children an
education that is free from discrimination on the basis of sex. Failure
to prevent and redress persistent gender-based violence in schools
operates as a discriminatory deprivation of the right to education for
"South Africa needs a systematic strategy to address the problem,"
George said. "Leadership at every level is vital to create an education
system free of gender bias and sexual violence."
Human Rights Watch urged the government to adopt and disseminate a set
of standard procedural guidelines governing how schools are to address
allegations of sexual violence and explaining how schools should treat
victims, and perpetrators, of violence.
The full report can be found at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/safrica.
For more information on academic freedom in Africa, please see:
HRW World Report 2001: Academic Freedom at
Kenya: Spare the Child: Corporal Punishment in Kenyan Schools (HRW
Report, September 1999) at http://www.hrw.org/hrw/reports/1999/kenya/