Litigation: Court battle looms over use of corporal punishment

SECTION27 (it is a public interest law center that seeks to achieve substantive equality and social justice in South Africa) intends taking the SA Council of Educators (Sace) to court for failing to train teachers to refrain from using corporal punishment as a form of discipline. A News24 report says SECTION27 believes that Sace should be held liable for not training teachers on how to discipline pupils. SECTION27 legal researcher Mila Harding said: ‘Last year, SECTION27 initiated legal proceedings against Sace after (receiving) two complaints from parents of learners who were assaulted by educators. It's alleged that Sace imposed light sanctions. This then allowed educators to continue teaching without any form of meaningful intervention or rehabilitative measures.’

According to Harding, SECTION27 later discovered that they were ‘prescribed mandatory sanctions’, which meant that light sanctions were usually handed out to teachers involved in incidents of assault. ‘This seemed like a systemic practice at Sace,’ Harding said. ‘It was at this point that SECTION27 realized it was time for Sace to be held accountable for not disciplining educators who commit acts of assault on pupils. As a custodian of the teaching profession, Sace needs to take incidents of corporal punishment seriously. This would entail revising their mandatory sanctions document to reflect the seriousness of corporal punishment.’ Sace should take a child-centred approach and have regard for the rights of pupils, Harding said. She suggested that rehabilitative measures for teachers should be required in some cases, and that in serious cases, teachers' names should be struck off the roll because this is something that is constitutionally required of Sace. Regarding pupils who attack teachers, she said: ‘The teacher should then report the incident to the principal and disciplinary processes will be initiated in terms of the school's code of conduct, and the school's disciplinary committee will determine an appropriate, non-violent sanction.’

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