Access to proper sanitation is a basic human right but one that is not realised by many people in South Africa – millions in fact – including children.

For most women and young girls, changing a sanitary towel could be considered a fairly basic task. On the other end of the scale however, there are still many young girls in schools across the country, faced with the challenge of accessing a suitable facility for this purpose – a challenge on its own aside from general concerns of performing well in the classroom.

This is the picture painted by The Star and Health-e News Service in, “Dirty Business,” (02/05/2013, p.16). The article receives a GLAD for shining the spotlight on the lack of proper sanitation in South African schools and how this disrupts the learning process.

According to the article, Health-e News Service surveyed 17 toilets in schools within four of the National Health Insurance pilot districts. “While all of the schools had some form of sanitation facilities, in almost all of them the toilets were blocked, broken or filthy, making them unusable for many people,” the article states.

Providing the reader with a well-rounded piece, Health-e News gave a bit of context to the story by sourcing a report by the Department of Education. The report which was presented to parliament in 2008   confirmed that many schools indeed do not have access to basic amenities and teaching resources amongst other things.  The article also reported on the litigation procedures undertaken by NGOs, Equal Education and SECTION27, supported by the University of Cape Town’s School of Education which links the physical environment of a learner and performance at school.

Health-e News also took a clear child rights-centred approach by sourcing research by the South African Human Rights Commission, amongst others, which “confirmed that the lack of decent infrastructure infringes on a child’s right to education.” The article further sourced recommendations by the World Health Organization and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry in relation to the ratio of number of children per toilet – a stark contrast to the reality in our schools.

To give a voice to the conditions described in the piece and marry the numbers to actual experiences, Health-e News also spoke to a Grade 11 pupil at a school in Cape Town. The 18-year-old girl described the appalling conditions at her school including her only choice to use a toilet at home during menstruation. “This makes me very uncomfortable during class and makes learning harder, but I do not want to use that bathroom,” she was quoted as saying.

Media Monitoring Africa frequently urges the media to include children’s views and opinions in matters that affect them, in line with our constitution and other instruments adopted by South Africa which speak to children’s rights to expression and participation. Health-e News together with The Star should be commended for taking a step in this direction.

Dirty Business challenges all sectors of society easily leaving the reader with the question: “How could this be possible in a democratic society in the 21st century?”

Perhaps that is when we start to look for solutions. Both The Star and Health-e News should be proud of putting the issue on the agenda.