The Basic Education Department has announced a policy change aimed at dealing with statutory rape incidents that go unreported. However, unions have also raised concerns over the capacity to follow through with the reports.
In an effort to curb teenage pregnancies in schools and prevent statutory rape, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has introduced a policy through which schools will be compelled to submit a police report if a 16-year-old pupil falls pregnant.
The newly gazette policy suggests that schools will have to send police reports if a pregnant girl is under the age of 16 and the father of the child is older than 16. This will then be followed by criminal procedures.
Basic Education spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, admits that the policy is long overdue as there is already a lot of cases in which young girls have become victims of statutory rape and teenage pregnancy.
It comes at a time when a lot of lives have already been destroyed through common assault offences and other cases that have occurred. So we are trying to close a gap where society has not been playing its part.
The policy also holds that if the perpetrator of teenage pregnancy also happens to be an educator, the department will suspend them, and follow all the disciplinary processes of the Employment of Educators Act.
Teachers will also be subjected to thorough background checks and security clearance to ensure that there are no incidents of sexual encounters among students and teachers.
However, if the perpetrator is a learner, the education department will call on their parents to become part of the intervention process. Mhlanga has also pointed out that the policy will not allow the prevention of pregnant girls from attending school.
He further states that Life Orientation teachers have already been trained to lead these interventions. The department has also been running workshops with school governing bodies to raise awareness about the policy among parents.
Unions have also welcomed the introduction of the policy, but have also raised concerns about the police’s capacity to follow through on these police reports.
Managing Director at NAPTOSA, Basil Manuel, says this is particularly the case when one observes the extent to which the country’s police force has been reduced.