Over half a million children with disabilities in South Africa are excluded from the school system. These are dramatic figures revealed by the report issued by the US non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch entitled “Accomplice exclusion: the failure of South Africa to ensure inclusive education for children with disabilities.” The report shows that, in five of the nine provinces of the country, children with disabilities have to face both architectural barriers, and a discriminatory culture from birth. Access to the school is for them often completely denied as a result of the absence of specific training for teachers who are not able to work with disabled students in the classroom. “We tried to put it in a traditional school – testifies to the mother of a Down boy – but they said that because it was not like other children, they were not able to teach him.”
The only remaining possibility for parents is to enroll their children in “special schools” but have very long waiting lists, often ask for payment of fees and are far from rural centers. Another mother, who has a 11 year old son with bifid spine, has turned to nine special schools, before being able to enroll the boy. But this school is far away and asks for a fee: “Since Lesley goes to school – tells the woman in the video published by Human Rights Watch – we get up every morning at 4. It takes an hour to get to school. And the transport service costs 32 dollars a month. “And this expense, together with the distance of these facilities, discourages many families, in many cases destitute, by sending the disabled child to school.
Hence, the requests made by Human Rights Watch to the South African government: first, to “ensure that all children and young people with disabilities have access to a quality education” proceeding first with “a collection of precise data on how many children with disabilities remain today out of school. “Second, “the government should adopt a new policy, asking all provincial governments and schools to ensure that all students with disabilities can complete basic education, and that they have the opportunity to attend mainstream schools, without face discrimination and violence.” Third, “the government should ensure that all children with disabilities and their families are adequately consulted respect to the education. To comply with its international obligations, the government should remove school fees and other financial barriers that prevent children with disabilities to go to school. ”
“Inclusive education is a right, not a privilege – concludes Samantha Rau Barriga, director of “Disability rights” of Human Rights Watch – and to invest in schools that include children with disabilities means that they will learn the basic skills and learn to be independent and this will lead in the long term, a more inclusive and welcoming community.”