South Africa: Education Barriers For Children With Disabilities, Claims HRW


An estimated half-a-million children with disabilities have been shut out of South Africa’s education system, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today at a joint event with South Africa’s Human Rights Commission.

The 94-page report, “‘Complicit in Exclusion’: South Africa’s Failure to Guarantee Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities,” found that South Africa has failed to guarantee the right to education for many of the country’s children and young adults due to widespread discrimination against children with disabilities in enrollment decisions. Human Rights Watch research in five out of South Africa’s nine provinces showed that children with disabilities face discriminatory physical and attitudinal barriers, often beginning early in children’s lives when government officials classify them according to their disabilities.

“The South African government needs to admit that it is not providing quality education to all of its children – in fact, no schooling at all to many who have disabilities,” said Elin Martínez, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, and author of the report. “The job is not done until all children count just the same in the education system.”

Although the government claims it has achieved the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of enrolling all children in primary schools by 2015, Human Rights Watch found that in reality across South Africa, many children with disabilities are not in school.

In 2007, South Africa was one of the first countries to ratify the UN Disability Rights Treaty, which requires the government to promote an inclusive education system. Such systems are designed to ensure that all children learn together and acquire the same skills on an equal basis, that barriers to learning are removed, and that children with disabilities get adequate support to prevent them from falling behind.

The government has had a policy since 2001 to end the exclusion of children with disabilities from the country’s schools and to provide education for all children in inclusive schools. But the government has not yet put into operation fundamental aspects of the policy. Among other things, the government uses the majority of its already limited resources for learners with disabilities for special schools, to the detriment of inclusive education.

An estimated half-a-million children with disabilities have been shut out of South Africa’s education system.

Contrary to the government’s international and national obligations, many children are turned away from mainstream schools and referred to special schools by school officials or medical staff simply because they have a disability. The referrals system needlessly forces children to wait for up to four years at care centers or at home for placement in a special school.

A lack of understanding of children’s disabilities and a lack of adequate teacher training means that many teachers and school officials do not know how to work with children with disabilities in classrooms, Human Rights Watch found. In some cases, children suffered physical violence and neglect in schools.

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