It is Child Protection Week this week in South Africa. Last week a bloodied condom was found in the girls’ bathroom at Jordao College, a private school, in Gauteng. Instead of using this as an opportunity to encourage positive and healthy discussions around sexuality, the principal instructed teachers to conduct “tests for sexual activity” on all female learners between grades 10 and 12 (average age at starting grade 10 — 15 years old). The way they chose to do this was to force female learners to remove their underwear so it could be inspected. Girls were not given a choice.
In South Africa we have clear legislation around virginity testing. A guide by the Children’s Institute at UCT on the Children’s Act makes it quite clear that virginity testing can only be conducted in South Africa under very strict circumstances and by qualified healthcare professionals.
The guide states:
“The Children’s Act, Section 12(4) prohibits virginity testing of children under the age of 16 years. Anyone who contravenes the prohibition is guilty of an offence and can be fined or imprisoned for 10 years or be given both a fine and a term of imprisonment (section 305(1)(a) and (6)). Virginity testing of children older than 16 may be performed but only under strict conditions that are specified in the Act and the Regulations:
• the child must consent to the test – i.e. it must be the child’s choice
(the child must sign Form 1);
• the test may only be performed after the child has been counselled properly;
• the child’s age must be verified;
• each child should be tested individually and in private;
• the test must be done in a hygienic manner (in particular, a separate pair of sterile surgical gloves must be used for each child);
• only a female can test a girl child and only a male can test a boy child;
• the results of the test may not be disclosed without the child’s consent; and
• after the test, the child’s body may not be marked in anyway (i.e. the outcome of the test must be kept confidential).
It is an offence not to comply with these requirements and a person is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for up to two years in some cases, or even up to 10 years in other cases, or to both a fine and imprisonment.”
Instead of taking decisive action against all those involved in this violation of girls’ dignity, and stigmatisation of female sexuality, the Gauteng MEC for education, Panyaza Lesufi, has simply asked the teachers to write an apology, to the parents of the learners, not even to the girls.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007 also describes the offence of “compelled self-sexual assault”, which applies to this situation. It states as Section 7:
“A person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally compels a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, to: (b) engage in any act which has or may have the effect of sexually arousing or sexually degrading B, is guilty of the offence of compelled self-sexual assault.”
The Act defines consent as follows:
“Consent’ means voluntary or unforced agreement.”
It is alleged that the girls were not given any choice, and in fact were threatened by teachers. If this is the case then these teachers have committed a crime in terms of the Sexual Offences Act and should be removed from their positions with immediate effect, and charged for the failure to do their duty to protect learners from harm.
Nowhere in the article does it make mention of inspecting the boys and thus this is a clear instance of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence cannot be something that is let off with an apology. That is what we have the law for. It’s not acceptable that we continue to allow the violation of children’s rights, especially not in such a critical period as children’s week. The MEC has an opportunity to show South Africa that the government takes children’s rights seriously.
An apology is not enough. I encourage you to email the MEC and the Gauteng department of education (email@example.com) and ask Lesufi to follow the law in terms of removing the principal, removing those teachers involved in this abuse, and holding all responsible parties accountable. Girls should not face fear when they go to school, and should not wonder about whether their dignity will be violated.