Botswana: Homeschoolers Granted Reprieve
On September 10, 2010, a local court in northern Botswana granted a reprieve to four homeschooling families who had been ordered by the same court just months earlier, on May 24, to cease their home education programs and put their children in public school. In the original decision, Judge I. T. Molobe did not find any signs of physical or emotional neglect, but equated homeschooling with educational neglect. On September 10, Principal Magistrate Jennifer Chikate agreed to refer the matter to Botswana’s High Court in order to address the constitutional claims made by the families. A number of articles in Botswana’s constitution indicate that personal liberties granted under the constitution ought to protect the right of parents to educate their own children.
The initial court order was surprising because no African country besides South Africa (see sidebar) had ever compelled homeschoolers by a court of law to place their children in school, according to Leendert Van Oostrum, president of the Pestalozzi Trust Legal Defence Fund.
The Pestalozzi Trust, a homeschool legal advocacy organization based in South Africa, is representing the four Botswana families.
“It seems the children were not neglected at all,” says Van Oostrum. “On the contrary, the [social worker] report suggests the opposite.” He observes that, unfortunately, “the present generation of officials and judicial officers in Africa see ‘the school’ and the education received in schools as the sole source of ... progress. [They] deny that education could happen outside institutions.”
The case began as a result of alleged infringement of the welfare of the children. The four families decided that the government schools could not provide a proper education for their children, and began homeschooling primarily on the basis of their religious beliefs. In the investigation that followed, the Social Welfare Office of Botswana’s Mahalapye District found that the children were generally well cared for and that the parents had taken steps to provide for their education.
In their report, however, the authorities focused on claiming that the parents
tried to paint the public education system “in as bad and inferior a light as they could” even though they are “themselves
the products of the very education system they now have occasion to castigate.” It appears that the authorities believed the children were not receiving an education simply because they were not enrolled in a government-run school.
in South Africa?
Although South African officials in 1993 sentenced Andre and Bokkie Mientjies to two years in jail for homeschooling their children, a public outcry from homeschoolers around the world resulted in the Mientjies’ release after just a few months. South Africa legalized homeschooling in 1996. To learn more about South Africa's journey to homeschool freedom, go to HSLDA’s international webpages and click on “South Africa.”
The Mahalapye District Social Welfare Office brought the case to Judge Molobe, the local magistrate, who ordered that the children be returned to public school. Judge Molobe’s poorly reasoned ruling ignores positive, well-established evidence about homeschooling. Instead, it concludes that the parents infringed upon the welfare of their children, as “enshrined and safeguarded” in various international treaties to which Botswana is signatory, by denying them “access to ... [public] education.” Specifically, the court states that the parents used their influence to remove the children from public school, which violated the children’s welfare, “particularly enjoyment of their right to education as espoused in ... treaties to which the country ascribes.” The court based its reasoning in part upon the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty to which Botswana has acceded.
In addition to ordering the homeschooled children returned to school, the judge authorized future inspections of the
families’ homes to ensure cooperation
with the court orders. On June 28, 2010, the Botswana Welfare Agency, accompanied by the police, raided the homes of two
of the families and confiscated “teaching materials,” including a whiteboard and books. Officials again ordered the children to be put in school, even though the
families had filed an official appeal of the court order.
A country with 2 million in population but with a landmass comparing roughly to the size of Texas, Botswana is generally considered a more Western-leaning nation than most African countries. While homeschooling is by no means widespread in Botswana, the number of homeschooling families is growing.
The Pestalozzi Trust Legal Defence Fund, which has supported homeschooling
families in South Africa and other parts
of Africa since 1998, is working closely
with the families in this case. Home School Legal Defense Association is coordinating with the Pestalozzi Trust to provide
support and assistance as needed. Keep
up to date on this case by going to HSLDA’s international webpages and clicking on “Botswana.”