Opponents of the proposed law claim it makes provision for children to be “taught to masturbate” but this is bunkum. There is no mention of the details of any curricula in the bill, including sex education which falls under the school subject life orientation.
Claims that under the bill children will need proof of vaccination to be admitted to government schools are misleading, but the current school admissions policy does require proof of some immunisations.
Calling it the “abortion bill” is similarly misleading, as no mention is made of the termination of pregnancies in the proposed law. However, the bill does address the management of pregnancies amongst school students.
There has been mixed public reaction to South Africa’s proposed new Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (or Bela bill).
According to basic education minister Angie Motshekga, the bill will amend the 1996 South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act of 1998 to "align them with developments in the education landscape".
In May 2022, parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education released the draft to the public for written comments. By February 2023 more than 29,000 submissions had been received, many expressing concern.
“The changes that are proposed are very far reaching and will have a massive impact on your child,” says a woman in the video, before making several specific claims about clauses in the bill.
We looked at three of them.
“Government will have the final say over the curriculum policy of your school, which will include comprehensive sexuality education,” the woman says.
“Sexuality education teaches your child from as young as the age of four that they have sexual rights and … sorry to say it and even mention it, but they even teach children how to masturbate,” she continues.
Africa Check asked Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, the chair of the portfolio committee on education, about this and other claims in the video.
A “thorough reading of the bill clarifies that most of the claims made are patently false”, she said.
Asked whether the Bela bill would see the government introduce masturbation as part of the curriculum, the basic education department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told Africa Check that the bill made “no mention” of school subjects, including life orientation which covers comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).
The focus of the bill was “mainly on the administrative processes of the department and schools”, Mhlanga said.
Current policy on sex ed
The education department’s policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy in schools already provides children in the basic education system the right to quality and age appropriate CSE.
This is included in the curriculum to help learners “make informed choices about their sexual health, orientation and safety”, according to the policy. The department says that CSE is a “values-based programme that encapsulates core messages which are based on human rights”. It is taught in South Africa’s public schools as part of the life orientation curriculum from grade 7 to grade 12.
According to the national curriculum statement (NSC), for grades 7 to 9 this covers puberty, the concept of sexuality, and sexual behaviour and sexual health. For grades 10 to 12 this covers decision-making regarding sexuality, changes associated with becoming an adult, and risky sexual behaviour.
Masturbation is not mentioned in any of the existing curriculum documents.
The department has not responded to questions on whether the Bela bill would introduce regulations to prevent children without any proof of vaccination from being placed in school. (Note: We will update this report should we hear back.)
But a search of the Bela bill for a clause on mandatory immunisation or vaccination of children for admission into school does not bring up any results.
Cecile van Schalkwyk, an attorney at human rights organisation the Legal Resources Centre, told Africa Check that clause 4 of the Bela bill amends section 5 of the South African Schools Act by including the following:
Any learner whose parent or guardian has not provided any required documents, whether of the learner or such adult person acting on behalf of the learner, during the application for admission, shall nonetheless be allowed to attend school.
“In light of the above, a learner will not be denied admission or entry to school, they will still access schooling without proof of immunisation or proof that immunisation is secured,” Van Schalkwyk said.
The claim in the video is therefore inaccurate.
Current policy on vaccination
According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef), childhood immunisation is a key health intervention to protect children from infectious and life-threatening diseases. In South Africa, the organisation estimates that 100,000 children missed out on childhood vaccinations as of 2022.
South Africa’s public schools admission policy lists proof of vaccination as a required document when applying for admission. Learners should be immunised against polio, measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis B, the policy states.
But legal experts have explained that the policy does not explicitly say that a child will be refused entry to a school if they are not immunised. As a result, some provinces have introduced their own rules.
In Gauteng, children are admitted to school on condition that the required documents, including proof of immunisation, are provided. If parents are unable to supply proof that they have applied for the required documents within two weeks, children can be denied admission.
In the Western Cape, if proof of vaccination is not provided, the school principal must refer the parent and child to the nearest health clinic. Only after vaccination can the admission process continue. If a parent does not want their child to be vaccinated, they must apply to the head of the education department. The child cannot be admitted to the school until a decision has been made.
Abortion is a medical procedure to end a pregnancy.
A South African member of parliament for the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Marie Sukers, appears in another video, telling the party’s over 40,000 Facebook followers that the bill will allow “for children as young as 12 to be able to have access to abortions without their parents even knowing about it”.
Van Schalkwyk told Africa Check that “the law as it currently stands, already makes provision for a child over the age of 12 to consent to an abortion without any involvement of the parent”.
She directed us to the Children’s Act of 2005 and the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act which provide that children over the age of 12 can consent to their own medical treatment, including abortion or “termination of pregnancy” without parental consent.
The Bela bill “is silent on teachers facilitating access to abortions through comprehensive sexuality education or otherwise,” Van Schalkwyk said.
Learner pregnancy is addressed in clause 41 of the Bela bill. This proposes that the minister of basic education be given the power to make regulations on the “management of learner pregnancy”.
“There is currently a high prevalence of learner pregnancy and this bill seeks to regulate how schools need to manage those instances when they occur,” Mbinqo-Gigaba told Africa Check.
She stressed that the bill was not an “abortion bill” as she had heard it claimed.
Mhlanga told Africa Check that these powers could include:
- How to report cases of pregnant learners to the relevant authorities when a girl has been impregnated by a fellow underage learner.
- How parents can help pregnant learners with school work and how missing tests and examinations could be dealt with.
- How health professionals would be involved to ensure the health of both the pregnant girl and the unborn child. This would involve compulsory visits to a health facility and the submission of medical certificates to the relevant authority.
According to the latest Statistics South Africa report on recorded live births up to 28 February 2022, there were a total of 4,042 live births to mothers aged 10 to 14 and 138,662 live births to mothers aged 15 to 19.