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The safety of children at school

  • South Africa
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On 24 March 2016 the Supreme Court of Appeal held that schools have the duty to ensure the safety of their children at all times.

On 02 September 2009 a 13 year old pupil at a school that caters for children with learning disabilities got injured on the playground whilst playing cricket. He became impaled on a steel dropper.

The steel dropper was placed alongside one of five saplings planted within the playground. The steel dropper tore through the pupil’s rectum and bladder and the pupil required medical attention and surgery. The pupil’s mother instituted proceedings on behalf of her minor son for damages suffered as a result of the incident against the school.

The question that had to be determined by the Supreme Court of Appeal was whether the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Pretoria, correctly held that the school was liable for damages sustained by the pupil on the basis of negligence.

The Supreme Court of Appeal considered various case law and the requirements for the test of negligence. The court concluded that a prudent man in the shoes of the defendant would not have placed the dropper in the vicinity where children were known to run and play. By placing a steel dropper within a playground where children engaged in ball games would create a dangerous situation and no reasonable steps were taken to prevent the foreseeable risk of harm.

The Supreme Court of Appeal held that considering the circumstances of the case and the fact that the school was a school that caters for students with learning disabilities and hyperactivity, the school did not take reasonable steps to foresee harm and acted negligently by placing the steel droppers where children were engaged in ball games and therefore created a dangerous situation.

The court emphasised the importance of section 28(1)(b) of our Constitution which states that every child has the right to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment. The court held that in considering public policy; the school acted negligently and should be held liable for damages.