Home PodcastInayet Wadee BELA Bill Seeks to Remove Parental Rights and Give Rise to Highly Sexualised Youth

BELA Bill Seeks to Remove Parental Rights and Give Rise to Highly Sexualised Youth

by Thaabit Kamaar
Image by The Daily Maverick

South Africa – The Basic Education Laws Amendment Act (BELA) continues to face criticism from political entities, civil organisations, citizens, and educators, particularly about specific clauses and policies, especially those pertaining to parental rights.

Additional concerns have been raised about its language policies, the mandatory enrollment of Grade R learners, and the potential penalisation of parents through fines or imprisonment, among other issues. Notably, many have criticised the bill for failing to address the significant challenges within the education sector.

Consequently, Imraan Subrathie, the Executive Secretary of the Association of Muslim Accountants and Lawyers of South Africa (AMAL), posits a larger and more nefarious agenda. An agenda which does not align with the best interests of parents or learners.

“What we find in this bill is it seeks to ultimately remove the parental rights, the rights of parents and the established rights of parents. Especially in how to raise the children, deciding what type of education is best for their children and passing on a culture to their children that they think is best. The bill ultimately seeks to disempower parental rights in the education space.”

Similarly, a Homeschool Educator and concerned parent, identified as RI, initially thought the BELA Bill would bring much-needed reform to the education system. However, a closer examination of its clauses and policies, particularly those affecting parents and educators, raised more concerns than assurances.

“One example is Clause 39, which deals with learner pregnancy. Via this clause, the state will give an Educator the power to authorise an abortion for a young learner without the knowledge of that child’s parents. A child of 12 years old will not need the consent of their parents to get an abortion nor notify the parent that they intend to have an abortion.”

RI further noted that the problem with this provision lies in granting authority to someone who lacks any inherent right over the child or their well-being.

This grants them the power to make pivotal, life-altering decisions concerning the child, a situation deemed unacceptable, mainly because parents will remain unaware of such procedures. Yet, they would be held responsible if their child requires additional care afterwards.

The Criminalisation of Parents Who Do Not Adhere to the Bill

It is crucial to highlight that not all proposed changes to the BELA Bill were outright rejected. Many have supported clauses that advocate for student safety and well-being, such as eliminating corporal punishment.

However, there is a growing concern about the severity of penalties imposed on parents. This provision only occurs when a parent hinders their child from attending school.

This penalty aims to safeguard the fundamental rights to a fair and equal education and the child’s entitlement to receive it. The concern arises because it mandates Grade R-level enrollment, making it illegal if a parent opts for a different form of education.

Imraan Subrathie raised a pertinent question, Could parents face imprisonment for choosing alternative education not regulated by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), such as religious education?

“Here again, parents might opt, and in our community and many other communities, not to send their child for a conventional education for reasons that the parent feels are not in the interest of my child to go into this school system. Rather, I’ll give my child vocational training or religious education as an alternative. But here, the bill says no, that cannot happen. The child must be in school from age five to age 15, and if a parent does not comply, they will be guilty of an offence. It will be a criminal offence.”

According to RI, should the bill be enacted, parents would relinquish their authority to determine their children’s education. The shift in power dynamics would reduce the influence of parents, school governing bodies (SGBs), and educators, who would have more control vested in the state.

“The state will ultimately have complete control and authority over our educational sector without parents, teachers, and SGBs being able to have a say. Jail times of up to 12 months and a fine may be imposed on anyone who does not comply with the Bela Bills regulations.”

Nevertheless, as long as alternatives such as homeschooling and other institutions are registered and comply with the requirements outlined in the bill to guarantee that the education provided aligns with the DBE standards, there is no need for concern.

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The BELA Bill’s Effect on Homeschooling

Another concern that was raised pertains to the impact of the BELA Bill on homeschooling, including its curriculum and assessment. While the bill does not seek to alter homeschooling legislation, its primary objective is to regulate and ensure that the quality of education matches that of public schools.

This entails adopting and implementing the same curriculum as public schools within homeschooling. However, the challenge lies in homeschooled learners often engaging with multiple curricula.

Addressing this concern, RI highlighted that, by definition, this regulation establishes the standard that only CAPS would be accepted by the DBE. This has the potential to create additional complications.

“Caps is a very content heavy curriculum and is meant to be taught in a brick and mortar environment with a qualified teacher. How does a non-qualified home parent teach caps according to the standard set for a public school setting?”

Next, there is the matter of educational content. Many South Africans are conservative, irrespective of their backgrounds and religious beliefs. Consequently, they are uncomfortable exposing their children to certain information, particularly at a young age.

Subrathie expressed concern about the review of information presented to young minds, particularly concerning sexual and gender education. This is especially problematic for parents who aim to raise their children by instilling familial values, principles, morals, and religious beliefs.

“If you look at materials being taught and developed to encourage children in their young ages to examine their physical selves, to arouse themselves and to become in sync with their bodily functions. These concepts are foreign to us, foreign to basic cultures and other religious cultures … Ultimately, if it goes uncontested, we will raise a generation of children who will lack morality and limits. It will be confused and will be a highly sexualised generation that will have no value system.”

While written submissions for the BELA Bill closed on January 31, oral submissions are still accepted. Subrathie, therefore, urges and encourages concerned individuals, parents, and educators to participate in these meetings and express their opinions, as they firmly believe.

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