The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/ AIDS (BONELA) learnt with utmost dismay that a Form 3 student at Letlhabile Community Junior Secondary School was barred from taking one of her final examination papers on account of her dress code – she was wearing school trousers instead of a skirt on a day that was designated for skirts. This student was promptly returned home at the school gate on the date of the examination without any hearing. In light of this, on the 28th of October 2016, BONELA issued a letter of demand against the Headmaster of Letlhabile Community Junior Secondary School and the Chief Education Officer in Tonota, calling on them to provide the opportunity for the student in question to sit for her examination as a matter of urgency.
Despite several attempts to engage education officials, including the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Basic Education, Grace Muzila, BONELA has not received any form of feedback as to how they intend to rectify this situation. It is common cause that Botswana is an avid protector of children’s rights. This is evidenced by the fact that we are a signatory to international instruments such as the United Nations on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). On the national level, Botswana has domesticated these laws in the form of the Children’s Act (2009) which is specifically enacted to “provide and protect the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development…of children.”
Noting this, it is our stance as a human rights organisation that the actions of the Headmaster of Letlhabile Community Junior School were in direct contravention with the child’s right to education, which is provided for under Section 18 of the Children’s Act. Additionally, the actions of the Headmaster were not ‘in the best interests the child’ which is deemed to be the paramount consideration when it comes to all decisions relating to the child, this being provided for under Section 5 of the Children’s Act. This principle is further supported by Article 3 of the UNCRC, which states that “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be consideration.” We, therefore, call upon the Permanent Secretary for Basic Education, Grace Muzila, to take action with immediate effect. Failure to do so will result in BONELA taking all necessary steps to protect the child’s right to education.
BONELA Executive Director