An investigation by SABC 1 Current Affairs programme, Cutting Edge, has uncovered widespread sexual abuse of children with disabilities in special schools in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Parents of the pupils say that their children are emotionally destroyed, and their development hampered.

Sexual abuse cases involving children with disabilities are often difficult to investigate as the victims are unable to tell police their story.

Disability rights organisations want the government to do more to root out this problem.

The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal are home to large numbers of people living with disabilities. Special schools are supposed to assist and educate children with disabilities, but many leave school because of sexual abuse.

Parents say their children were sexually assaulted and put through the most harrowing, intense pressure.

“I think the rape was sometimes too painful, and he would have cuts … the pus that was coming out of his buttocks was caused by cracks that were as a result of the pain and a wound was formed.”

Another parent says her daughter was only 13 years old when she was sexually abused.

“My daughter was 13 years old. The man was old. He caused injury to my daughter. She struggled with incontinence after the rape.”

A school in Mbizana, in the Eastern Cape, is struggling with the same problem. A young boy with a speech impediment was allegedly assaulted at school by fellow pupils. Later, the boy was allegedly strangled to death on a school bus by classmates.

His mother says she wants answers from the provincial Education Department and the bus driver.

“I become so angry when I see the bus driver. If I had the strength, I was going to pay revenge on that driver to show him that I’m not happy – that he never came to us and tell us what happened to my son. I have begged him several times. I understand the principal doesn’t know how my son died because he was in his office. I want the driver to come and tell me what happened.”

It’s alleged most rape cases are committed by boys against boys. The alleged rapes endured by girls are perpetrated mainly by their teachers and other male school staff. The Department of Basic Education admits that sexual exploitation of pupils is rife.

Department Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga says that the perpetrators must be dealt with.

“Those educators, those officials must now be dealt with, and be dealt with harshly, because we want to protect our children. Firstly, from the sexual offence; secondly, from secondary trauma which has been a problem. Most of the people who were accused of offending were reinstated due to lack of evidence.”

A teacher, who allegedly impregnated a Grade 12 learner at a special school, has been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing.

Children under the age of 16 are considered too young to consent to sexual activities, even if the child doesn’t believe it to be rape.

For more on this story on sexual abuse in special schools, watch Cutting Edge on Tuesday at 21:00 on SABC 1.

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