Date: Mar 8, 2023 Type: Country:

Government must urgently act on eradicating pit toilets after death of learner

In response to reports of the death of a four-year-old girl whose body was found inside a pit toilet at a school in the Eastern Cape, Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said:

“This is deeply sad and unacceptable. This child’s death comes a week after the Department of Basic Education (DBE) missed yet another deadline to eradicate all illegal plain pit toilets from schools in South Africa. 

“The police are investigating the circumstances of the child’s death but, whatever the outcome, these illegal pit toilets are dangerous, and are not only violating the right to sanitation, but also the right to health, education, dignity, and privacy whilst in some cases posing a serious risk to the right to life, all of which are enshrined in the Constitution.

“The DBE must urgently provide an update on how many illegal plain pit toilets remain in schools across South Africa, and eradicate them immediately. No child’s life should be lost because of the failures and shortfalls of the department. By continuing to fail to do so, the DBE is showing total disregard for the basic human rights of learners.” 


Plain pit toilets are unimproved and unventilated pit toilets. 

Amnesty International South Africa’s 2020 report, Broken and Unequal: The state of education in South Africa, found that at some schools, the entire school would depend on two or three plain pit toilets. The report recommended that in order for the right to quality, equal basic education to be realised, the government must ensure all schools have access to adequate and safe water and sanitation. This included replacing all unsafe and unsanitary plain pit toilets by the end of 2020 and eradicating all pit toilets completely by 2023.

A follow-up report in 2021, South Africa: Failing to learn the lessons? The impact of COVID-19 on a broken and unequal education system, gauged the impact of Covid-19 on the education system and found that the single largest cut in the 2020 Supplementary Budget was applied to the school infrastructure programme. 

As in 2020, it recommended that the government ensure that all schools have access to adequate and safe water and sanitation, including replacing all unsafe and unsanitary plain pit toilets, and adhering to concrete deadlines and targets. 

On 1 March 2023, Amnesty International South Africa again called on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to eradicate pit toilets after the DBE missed another deadline. See our press release here

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Mienke Mari Steytler, Media and Communications Officer (Maternity Cover), Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0) 64 890 9224; 

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Amnesty International South Africa office, 97 Oxford Road, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, 2196