COVID-19: Gov. must act in the best interest of the child

Friday 3 July 2020
A child's best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child, as mentioned in the South African constitution. The United Nation Convention on the Right of child (UNCRC) further states that “States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures”.

The decision for children to return to school on the 8th of June was welcomed with the belief that we will draft the lessons learnt, as was mentioned by the Minister of Basic of Education, Angie Motshekga. Unfortunately, schools have now become COVID-19 hotspots. Most schools have been closed and reopened due to COVID-19 cases and learners are currently going to school because families do not have alternatives. The Department of Education (DBE) promised to provide psychosocial support as soon as schools reopen, to this day none has been provided to some of us. As learners we have had traumatic experiences at home due to the rising cases of the virus in our schools. 

Our right to education is equal to the right to health, so since we do not have a solution to combat this pandemic, schools must be closed until September. We can develop a new academic calendar as a country, because we have failed when it comes to  online education. Almost 100 schools were forced to close in Gauteng due to COVID-19 and now the very same schools are expected to receive more learners from Monday.

In the Eastern Cape, preparations for funerals of learners who died of COVID-19 are underway and yet DBE is still saying grade R, 6 and 11 pupils should return to school. We have already failed to contain the virus with the return of grade 7 and 12 learners, so why allow more children to go back to school? As pupils we should be consulted on issues affecting us. While for adults it might feel like it is safe for us to return to school, the reality is that on the ground things are getting worse.
 
We can always catch up on academic work, but we cannot  say the same about health. Article 12 of the UNCRC states that children have the right to express their views on matters concerning them, in line with their emerging capacities, and to have those views taken seriously by decision-makers. The country needs to reconsider the reopening of schools, as most of us will be more  vulnerable with the return of more learners.  This is also likely to lead to more deaths. 

By Ntwanano Mabunda, A 17-year-old Human Rights Defender
 

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