- Allegations of use of corporal punishment surface against Tiny Tots schools
It was only his sixth day at Tiny Tots Pre-School when mysterious tragedy befell a three-year-old Bohlokoa Qhobosheane on January 14.
The tragedy led to Bohlokoa’s demise the next day while doctors were trying to attend to him.
In an exclusive interview with MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (the centre), Bohlokoa’s parents; Nkeeane and ‘Mabohlokoa Qhobosheane recounts unsatisfactory debriefing by the school on what happened to their deceased child.
’Mabohlokoa, (mother of the deceased) narrates—with a trembling and feeble voice—that on that fateful day she received a phone call from Tiny Tots and told to rush and fetch her child who had allegedly fell.
“I indeed rushed to school and upon my arrival; I was received by Bohlokoa’s teacher and another teacher whom I did not know as my child’s teacher.
“While his teacher was quiet, the other teacher explained to me that the child was lying down on a desk which collapsed causing the child to hit a plastic chair. She also said my son sustained a bleeding nose and obtained a bruise on the mouth.
Contacted for her side of the story, Tiny Tots owner and Principal, Reeta Dhar refused to give the Centre her side of the story arguing there is a police investigation underway and she has been advised not to speak publicly about incidents that occurred at her school leading to Bohlokoa’s death.
“There will be ramifications with the police if we speak about the case under investigation. Police have asked us not to make any statements,” says Dhar.
However, investigations by the centre reveal that there has been unreported cases of abuse by teachers at Tiny Tots Pre-school and its linked primary school which have been going on for quite some time.
More than five parents approached the centre on condition of anonymity but alleging readiness to speak on record to the police about incidences of teachers’ abuse which forced them to take their children out of Tiny Tots.
“The treatment of teachers to my child there was as if I was not paying any fees. Those teachers are very arrogant like they do not look after children.
“My son used to cry every time he had to go to Tiny Tots. He had signs of being so scared as though he had panic attacks when mention of going to school came up. Later on my son who was able to clearly ask to go to the loo all by himself started soiling his underpants while at school.
“When schools closed or during the weekend he would be the happiest child. I feel so bad because I did not hold the school accountable for ill-treating my so, rather I took him to another school,” says one of the parents.
“I took my child out of that school some years ago. I was so angry when I got to Tiny Tots and found my child isolated at some corner because she did not have class party food and snacks.
“I admit that I totally forgot about the class party but teachers knew my mobile number. Why didn’t they call me to remind me, instead of treating my child like she did not belong to her class,” says another parent.
“Children at that school are beaten badly and I really wonder why we as parents end up resorting to taking our children out of school instead of reporting to police and taking matters of our children’s abuse seriously.
“Keeping silent about such issues make the school authorities to get away with murder. I just took my child to another school after she was beaten on the head,” says another parent.
Authoritative sources close to the matter approached the centre and said a recent incident of abuse by Tiny Tots teacher on pupils happened in November 2019.
The Centre heard how the child’s parents were unhappy.
“A parents’ meeting was called shortly after the incident and a task team formed by parents, school board and members of local civic groups was formed. The task team was established to investigate circumstances around the assault on the child,” says the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Centre has learned while investigations of the task team have started, the school’s principal reportedly suspended the male teacher but surprisingly when schools re-opened in January the teacher was back at work.
“That is how lightly issues of child abuse by teachers in this school are taken.
“Task team was not informed about that teachers return to his normal duties but was previously told by the school’s principal that he is a good Mathematics teacher she can’t afford to lose,” the source said.
In a May 2018 report, a United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child when considering Lesotho’s implementation of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child raised concerns over issues of corporal punishment not being prohibited in all settings.
In a question to the delegation that included then minister of Human Rights, Law and Constitutional Mokhele Moletsane, MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Lesotho expressed concern that the law did not explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including the family and care and penal institutions.
Otani asked whether would a State party consider prohibiting punishment in all settings, and taking measures such as awareness raising to change the mind set of people and to provide training to parents, teachers and others working with children on positive discipline?
In response Moletsane said physical abuse or corporal punishment was part of training programmes for teachers.
“Every case of violence against children should be reported and sent to the courts. Crime prevention committees dealt with such offences in rural settings,” Moletsane told the committee.
Moletsane highlighted the issue of enforcement and change of mind set adding a lot needed to be done to raise awareness about the negative effects of corporal punishment.
Lesotho’s Child Welfare and Protection Act of 2011 in a section on “right to protection from torture and degrading treatment” provides for protection of children from corporal punishment.
But ’Mabohlokoa says “what really shocked me was that I had to take my son to the see a doctor contrary to a signed agreement that the school imposes on all parents of a child attending school Tiny Tots that in times of medical emergency or injury the school will take medical responsibility of the child”.
’Mabohlokoa tells the Centre she used to take responsibility of preparing her late child for school every day and had never seen him with body swellings or lumps like the ones her child had on the head on January 14 when she arrived at his school.
“I also spotted bruises and scratches on his back just below the shoulders and they looked like a result of being beaten up,” she says.
However, her husband joined her to take the child to Naleli Family Clinic where the child was given medication but also referred to Maseru Private Hospital for further medical tests.
Bohlokoa’s father, Qhobosheane, says it was unfortunate for their child not to be attended by Maseru Private Hospital doctors the same day due to a CT – Scan machine not working.
“We were told to come back on January 15, which was the following day,” he says.
Qhobosheane explains the agony his family suffered having to go back to Maseru Private Hospital the following day only to be told by the doctors that his son was no longer alive as ‘unbearable shock’.
He says they went back home embittered and sad.
The young couple had to go home to inform its extended family about the tragic loss of their first born, the only child they had ever had.
Together the couple had to also go report the death of their child to the police, having to repeat the same distressful story of the suspicious death of their son.
Police at the Pitso Ground Charge Office told them that the case will be opened and investigations around the cause of their son’s death will be initiated.
Both parents say inconsistencies in statements by Tiny Tots on what happened to their son until he sustained swellings, bruises, and scratches has left them infuriated.
Asked by the centre whether speculation on social media that their child was autistic and had allergies that is why he had swellings and bruises, the couple says the social media claims were false accusations spread by cruel people.
“…those claims are not true at all,” they say.
Taking her turn to elaborate further her son’s medical history, ’Mabohlokoa says she is broken by the passing of her child and had no motive whatsoever to hide if indeed her son had a medical problem.
“There is a consent form detailing the child’s medical history at Tiny Tots Pre-school.
“We filled the form and we have not said our son was autistic in the form because he was never diagnosed by any medical doctor that he was autistic except for being a hyperactive child.
“Surprisingly that consent form we were told by the school that it no longer exists in my son’s file records,” she says.
Both parents say they were disenchanted in how Tiny Tots administration handled the death of their child following injuries sustained while at their school.
“School representatives never showed remorse to our family in this difficult time of mourning the loss of our 3 year old boy.
“They never came to see how we were coping with this ordeal, instead voice clips went viral on social media where we were accused of hiding the child’s medical history, alleging the wrong teacher to have killed our child and so many things that have not been adding up,” says the couple.
The couple says it needs closure to what exactly happened to Bohlokoa and have pinned their hopes on police investigations that are said to have been initiated.
“We hope to get to the truth of what transpired and that convincing findings will be made so that we can move on.
“We want our child to rest in peace and the truth will also enable us to move on,” they add.