Council disconnects children’s water

The decision to shut off water and electricity to schools is a violation of human rights, of the right to education in particular.  Though the Tshwane Metro Council called it a last resort; it is simply not an option. Providing quality basic education (a guaranteed human right in South Africa) is a multi-sector endeavour, requiring the commitments of the water, sanitation, power generation, internal security, transportation and roads ministries.

Rights are not the same as needs.  Human beings have the right to a minimum standard of education, inherent to their being born.  In this case, the right-holders are children.  It is the responsibility of the State to create an environment in which the right to basic education can be claimed.  Sending the police to force to compel the Tshwane Metro Council to reconnect the schools would not have been overkill.  It would have sent a strong message to South Africans, that the government of South Africa will not tolerate the violation of the rights of its citizens; particularly children, those who will most certainly have to make these policy choices in future.

By Nancy Dubosse

The Tshwane Metro Council disconnected water and electricity for more than seventy schools because of a debt owed by the Gauteng Department of Education.  Most of the schools are in Soshanguve, Atteridgeville, Mamelodi, and Hammanskraal.  As reported by the Pretoria News, one school actually closed for fear of the unsanitary conditions.

This is in direct contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by 193 countries including the Republic of South Africa.  In essence, it states that governments have the moral duty to acknowledge the human rights of children as citizens.  Specifically, the signatories agreed to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment…”

If a government has ratified an international treaty, it is obliged to bring its national constitution and laws in conformity with the treaty’s provisions.  One of the provisions relates to the right to basic education and that it must be “compulsory and available free to all”.  Key aspects of the right to education are non-discrimination and universality; even the children of Mamelodi may claim it.

Beyond the recognition that the rights of children are primordial, the CRC also maintains that when it comes to decisions on policy, that the interests of children come first.  That is, when choosing between options, the state must defer to the policy that best protects children and fosters their growth.  For example, the construction of a water pump in front of the local pub is probably not in the best interests of children, who are often tasked to fetch water, especially girls.  The criteria for making choices between policy options are availability, accessibility, and quality.

So, suffice it to say, the decision to shut off water and electricity to schools is a violation of human rights, of the right to education in particular.  Though the Tshwane Metro Council called it a last resort; it is simply not an option.  It has obvious public health implications.  It was reported that teachers were forced to ask residents living near schools for the use of their toilets.  This jeopardizes the safety and security of children, making education both unavailable and inaccessible.    It also directly disrupts teaching, as students obvious can only remain in a classroom up until they have to use the toilets; calling into question the quality of education service delivery. 

In addition to the CRC, the government of South Africa has guaranteed the right to quality basic education, which implies ensuring that children are able to receive such.  Providing quality basic education is a multi-sector endeavour, requiring the commitments of the water, sanitation, power generation, internal security, transportation and roads ministries.
 
Rights are not the same as needs.  Human beings have the right to a minimum standard of education, inherent to their being born.  In this case, the right-holders are children.  It is the responsibility of the State, as the ‘duty-bearer’ to create an environment in which the right to basic education can be claimed.  Sending the police to force to compel the Tshwane Metro Council to reconnect the schools would not have been overkill.  It would have sent a strong message to South Africans, that the government of South Africa will not tolerate the violation of the rights of its citizens; particularly children, those who will most certainly have to make these policy choices in future.

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3 Responses

  1. This is outrageous and very sad. Water is the most basic of human requirements for existence and to deny it to these children and, by doing so, to then deprive them of their right to a proper education, is absolutely intolerable.

    Given South Africa’s recent history of white oppression, I would have thought that awareness of these sorts of basic human rights would have been more acute there than in many other countries of the world.

  2. For the record, South Africa’s bill of rights includes a special section on Children’s Rights (section 28). They therefore have protections beyond those of the standard rights and state institutions have even heavier obligations. This is a matter which the new ministry should be taking up urgently not only for the schools which have now lost access to water but for those which have yet to obtain even that basic access.

  3. Hallo Nancy, that is a very wonderful information that i believe all organizations in education should fight against because the same inhuman treatment was witnessed in Kenya in our city of nakuru last year when over 50,000 pupils went without water for a whole week after the local municipal council disconnected water in 120 primary schools, the ministry of water ordered for the reconnection after we appeared on our local TV stations threatening them with legat action.
    We therefore strongly support your sentiments
    thank you

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