The National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) says that it is left with no other option than to litigate in order to get the approximately 600 000 school children with disabilities that are currently not attending school into the education system. André Kalis, specialist of advocacy, policy and children’s matters at the NCPD, says their requests to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in this regard have fallen on deaf ears.
“We’ve made several submissions to the DBE; we’ve had discussions with the department and even turned to the Human Rights Commission for help. In most cases we don’t even get an acknowledgment of receipt on our correspondence,” he explains.
“Some time ago we decided to turn to activism in the hope of spurring on social mobilisation, to see if we can get the DBE to act, but to no avail. We are in the midst of a massive crisis and they are dragging their feet. It is becoming increasingly clear to us that the department is not serious about implementing the Policy on Inclusive Education in terms of children with disabilities.”
Kalis believes the NCPD and other parties that will be joining them in the litigation process have a strong case. His optimism is based on the successful court application of the Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability (WCFID) against the government in 2010.
Prior to this judgment,WCFID had been lobbying government for 13 years for the Right to Education for Children with Severe and Profound Intellectual Disability. The lack of progress in this regard left the body with no other choice but to litigate. “There are currently about 600 000 school-going children with disabilities languishing at home with no educational input. What worsens the situation even further is the likely link between the high level of unemployment (close to 70%) among persons with disabilities and limited educational opportunities and access disabled persons are exposed to,”says Kalis.
In a Human Rights Watch report titled Complicit in Exclusion: South Africa’s Failure to Guarantee Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities published in August 2015, estimates of several organisations and experts focusing on children with disabilities suggest that the majority of statistics that are available dramatically underestimate the number of children with disabilities who are out of school. Kalis says this is highly disconcerting, adding that the problem seems much bigger and more complex than originally thought.
The government has an almost insurmountable crisis on its hands and unfortunately, the Department of Basic Education’s diabolical track record does not hold out much hope for any change.
Sadly, children with disabilities are the most exposed and vulnerable group in South Africa and are bearing the brunt of the government’s non-commitment to bring about change,” he concludes.