South Africa: Provinces Are Not Liable for Child Injuries in ECD Centres, Supreme Court of Appeal Rules

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Should provincial departments of social development be held liable for damages when a child is injured at a nursery school? Last week, the Supreme Court of Appeal held that, in general, it would not be appropriate to impose such liability on provincial departments. The judgment is significant as it delineates the roles of various stakeholders and principles of oversight and accountability in relation to early childhood development centres, as well as other care facilities.

The case before the Supreme Court centred on a tragedy that occurred over a decade ago at a nursery school in Bredasdorp (in the Western Cape). Heart-wrenchingly, in 2008 an unstable beam forming part of a defectively designed swing set at the school fell on a girl of just five and a half years old. She was left brain-damaged and severely disabled. Her parents sued the nursery school and the MEC of the Western Cape department of social development for damages.

In South Africa, early childhood development (ECD) centres and programmes are primarily privately provided (contrasted with the provision of public education from Grade R to 12). The legislation requires operators of ECD centres to register with the provincial department of social development.

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