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Basic Education Taken To Court Over Failure To Feed Vulnerable School Children

EQUAL EDUCATION, SECTION 27 and the school governing bodies of two Limpopo schools have launched an urgent court application against the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments.

The EE and the SGBs are challenging the DBE’s failure to roll out the National Schools Nutrition Programme to all learners in all grades.

The government’s feeding scheme normally provides meals to over 9 million learners every day, but was halted when schools closed on March 18 due to COVID-19, jeopardizing the food security of these learners and exacerbating the severe hardship experienced within their households.

EE and the SGBs, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) and SECTION27, have filed legal papers at the North Gauteng High Court.

The NGOs argue that the failure of the DBE and provincial education departments to roll out the school nutrition programme to all qualifying learners – or even to produce a plan or programme for doing so – is a regressive measure that violates learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality. 

“Throughout the time that schools have been closed, a number of child rights and education justice organisations, including SECTION27, EELC and EE, have repeatedly engaged with the DBE urging them to reinstate the NSNP for all learners,” the NGOs said in a statement.  

“The closure of the NSNP impacts on not only the health and education of learners, but has knock-on effects on entire families – in a context of heightened unemployment and loss of income due to the nationwide lockdown, many families are struggling to put food on the table. These families urgently require the NSNP to be reinstated in order to meet their children’s basic nutritional needs and ensure that they are able to buy other desperately needed necessities in the home.”

 SECTION27 and EE have received gravely concerning testimonies from learners, caregivers, educators and SGB members about the dire hardship faced by children across the country in the absence of the NSNP.

The following statements demonstrate the severity of suffering:

 “I had to get a job doing gardening to earn some money to buy food. My sister and I do not have enough food at home. Without the meals from school, I could not concentrate on school work because I was hungry.” – Matric learner, Limpopo

 The government must also think about those learners at home. I feel bad because I am receiving meals at school while my younger sister is still struggling at home. It is not right.” – Matric Equaliser (learner member of EE), Gauteng

“I have been extremely stressed during this period but because I am a mother, I have to make a plan to make sure my family does not go hungry. I have had to resort to taking loans from a loan shark in order to make sure my family survives. The weight on my shoulders is heavy.” – Single mother of five, Limpopo

It is “unfair that some children will be able to benefit and others will not be able to” since “parents are no longer working and need the feeding scheme now more than ever”. – Grade 10 Equaliser (learner member of EE), Gauteng

(Compiled by Inside Education staff)

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