Homeschoolers Interrogated by Secret Police, Face Imprisonment
Home School Legal Defense Association
Four families who reside in Mahalapye, Botswana face an uncertain future due to an increasingly tense standoff over the issue of homeschooling. The families, adherents of the Seventh Day Adventist church, homeschool because of their religious and philosophical convictions. Despite their sincerely-held religious beliefs and the inability of the court to find any social or educational problems with the children, they have nonetheless been ordered by the local court to enroll their children in public school or face unknown consequences. On September 10, a judge in Botswana is scheduled to decide their fate. Attorneys for the family are seeking an urgent interdict to prevent the magistrate court from taking any action against this family. HSLDA is asking for your help.
Estimates suggest that only a few hundred children are homeschooled in Botswana, a country of 2 million located just north of South Africa and that has acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Social workers cited the UN treaty as the primary reason for initiating the court action. On May 24, 2010 Judge I.T. Molobe, a magistrate court judge in Mahalapye, ordered the families to enroll their children in public school and to cease home education. The written decision also ordered the families to forfeit their teaching materials to the state; these were subsequently taken by the police in a raid in July of this year. On August 20, Principal Magistrate Judge Jennifer Chikate denied a stay pending the appeal and ordered the parents to appear before the court on September 10 to report their compliance with the order. If the parents do not comply by sending their children to public school, they face contempt charges, possible jail time, and/or stiff fines. The families have told HSLDA that they are determined to continue homeschooling.
“I Must Obey God”
“There is no way I will enroll my children in school under any circumstances,” Mr. Modimoothata told HSLDA Director of International Relations Michael Donnelly. “I must obey God. The schools here are corrupt and teach my children things that go against our faith and our values. I cannot allow them to go to these schools.”
According to lawyers for the Pestalozzi Trust, a South African homeschooling legal defense organization, there is no explicit law in Botswana requiring parents to send their children to school. Although Botswana’s 2008 Children’s Act makes it a crime if a parent denies their children the opportunity to attend a school, this case is not a criminal matter applying the criminal provision of the Children’s Act. Rather the families are involved in a civil case where social workers have sought to substitute their own subjective decisions for that of the parents.
During an investigation ordered by the court earlier this year, social workers found that none of the children in these families want to attend public schools, saying that they believed that their parents were providing them with a superior education. The judge found in his written decision that the children were cared for and that the parents took steps to provide for the education of their children. Nevertheless, Judge Molobe cited Botswana’s UN “treaty obligations,” as a reason to find that the parents violated the “welfare of these children, particularly enjoyment of their right to education as espoused in various local legislation and treaties to which the country ascribes.” Lawyers in the case also noted that there does not appear to be any explicit legal requirement in Botswana that parents send their children to any school.
Judge Molobe’s opinion appears to suggest that every child should go to public school. The judge writes that because Botswana is “signatory to various treaties to which the right of education is enshrined … It therefore follows the resultant need for every parent or guardian to accord their children access to such education which comes at very nominal fees in terms of public schooling. Indeed it goes without say[ing] that Respondents are themselves the products of the very education system they now have occasion to castigate.”
In his order the judge explicitly prohibits Lolo Modimoothata from teaching her younger siblings, despite the fact that Ms. Modimoothata is a qualified teacher with specialist qualifications to teach deaf and blind children.
“Best” Interest of the Child
The only reason the four families are facing this situation is because a judge is using the UNCRC to impose his subjective view regarding education and to substitute his opinion as to what is in the “best interests” of these children over the views of the parents. HSLDA has stated that the UNCRC opens the door for judges to make sweeping determinations about how children are educated. This and other cases from around the world increasingly demonstrate the truth of this assertion.
It should concern every homeschooling family in the world that judges are increasingly using provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to intervene in homeschooling families, forcing parents to send their children to government schools. Sweden is another country that has adopted draconian measures against homeschooling families, citing its “obligations” under the UN CRC.
Leendert Van Oostrum, executive officer of The Pestalozzi Trust, which has hired attorneys for the families, said that his organization is helping fund the appeal of the case with the help of the families.
“These are Brave Families”
“These are very determined and brave families,” says Mr. Van Oostrum. “They believe it is their God-ordained duty and right to educate their children at home. We are proud to be able to support them in their cause. We find the behavior of the Botswana police and courts outrageous and hope that more responsible leadership will be applied to remedy this situation without undue trauma to these children. Because our own resources are limited, one of the fathers has been forced to sell his family’s only car to help pay the legal fees for the case. The other families are likewise contributing to their legal defense at great sacrifice. We are also grateful for the support of HSLDA in this case.”
In early July HSLDA reported on the raids of the homes of these families and the confiscation of teaching materials as a result of the orders of Judge Molobe. Despite the consequences that can be imposed by the state, the families are unflinching in their devotion to what they believe is their God-given duty and right to educate their own children.
HSLDA has written a letter to the ambassador of the Republic of Botswana, appealing to him on behalf of these persecuted families. In his letter, Donnelly points out that behavior like this has brought negative international attention to countries like Sweden and Germany. Referencing the case of the Romeikes, German homeschoolers who were granted political asylum in the United States in January 2010, he points out that governments should protect the rights of parents to homeschool. Read his letter here.
Donnelly notes that as homeschooling grows internationally, clashes like this are becoming more common.
“Unfortunately, there appears to be a heavy bias in some countries against the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children,” said Donnelly. “We have seen egregious cases of authoritarian treatment of homeschooling families in Germany and Sweden in Europe, and now with Botswana in Africa. We call on policy makers in Botswana to take swift action to protect the rights of parents to determine the best form of education for their children, including homeschooling. And we are asking our members to take action in defense of these brave families in Mahalapye!”