Violence in schools, which at times has led to fatalities and serious injuries, continues to jeopardise the future of young people whilst threatening progress in the country. 

Whilst this phenomenon is not unique to South Africa and occurs the world over, solutions must be found and fast before our schools are turned into war zones. Each year, around the world, about 246 million children are affected by school violence, according to a 2017 report by (UNESCO. 

“These school-based acts of violence can be both physical and non-physical and may or may not result in bodily or emotional harm to the victim. This violence typically takes the form of learner-on-learner, learner-on-educator, educator-on-educator, and educator-on-learner violence and severely disrupts the normal functioning of the schooling system,” the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), has found. 

When addressing school violence, it is important to focus not just on actual incidents of crime and violence but also the fear thereof and the impact this fear has on learner and educator well-being, school attendance, and the ability to teach and learn. Learners and educators should not only be free from crime and violence, but they should be free from the fear thereof. 

The CJCP found that the majority of violence occurring in schools takes place in the classrooms. This violence often occurs when educators are unable to manage and control their class or when the class is left without supervision. Classroom violence poses a significant barrier to learning. 

School sports grounds and playing areas are the next most frequent locations for violence perpetration. Within the school premises, school toilets were the area most feared by learners. 

Findings indicated that school toilets are sites of increased risk for sexual violence, accounting for the location of more than 12.5% of sexual assaults in schools. 

Female learners, in particular, reported cases where male learners had sexually violated them, in the school toilets.  Many learners in South Africa not only feel unsafe on the school premises, but also on their way to and from school. Since not all children and adolescents can afford private transport, many children in South Africa walk or rely on public transport to get to and from school. 

Unaccompanied school children, who rely on public transport or walking, are vulnerable to general violence in their communities. For female learners, who walk or use public transport, there is an increased risk of sexual violence victimisations.

What is and should be done:

A multi sectoral approach should be strengthened involving law enforcement, teachers, learners and communities;

Emphasis should be on the strengthening of Safe School Committees in addressing crime and violence in schools;

Connecting schools with local police stations;

Mobilising communities to take ownership of schools in their areas;

Raising awareness amongst learners about violence and its impact;

Encouraging schools to establish crime/safety reporting system at their school;

Implementing of schools-based crime prevention programmes in collaboration with relevant provincial, district and local officials;

Specialised operations for hotspot schools, including visible policing and patrols; and

The closure of illegal shebeens and liquor outlets within a 500m radius of schools.

-Adapted from a press release