Who is liable for a student's misdeeds on their way to school?

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Pupils walk from school. Pupils should be supervised closely so that they don't engage in bad acts. / Francis Byaruhanga.

It’s 7.00am; Derrick and his schoolmate John, clad in their school uniforms, chat away carelessly on their journey to school. These two lads have five kilometres to reach school and given their age, it’s normal for them to get playful along the way.

On this particular day, Derrick spots a bird flying by and throws a stone at it. Unfortunately, the stone misses the bird and instead shatters the windscreen of an oncoming car - a Mercedes Benz. Noticing that the boy was innocent, the car owner drives off after delivering a stern warning to the youngsters.

The whole scenario begs the question: who is liable for such an incident between the parents and school authorities?

Mutabazi Abayo, a senior advocate at Rwanda Bar Association, says pupils of school-going age are considered to be unable to think straight themselves, therefore, whatever wrong or crime they commit is mitigated and waived since they are regarded as minors. 

He emphasises that a child’s wrongs are shifted to the parents when he/she is at home and the school, when he/she is in the school premises. 

“Parents have a wider responsibility and are accountable for damages caused by their children even when they are putting on the school uniform or on their way home. This is basically because parents have the responsibility to teach their children good morals in society, therefore they are answerable to actions of their children on a wider range,” Abayo explains.

He, however, says those above 21 years of age are personally liable for the damages they cause.

Teachers, parents have their say 

Neville Kamanzi, a parent and a resident of Nyamirambo, Kigali, says parents ought to groom their children to ensure they learn proper behavior.

“A parent’s responsibility should not stop at protecting children from spoiling property, but also extend to things like guidance on which television channels and movies to watch. Lack of supervision and guidance exposes children to adult movies and nude pictures, for instance, which has a negative impact on their behavior,” he says.

Zachee Nshimiy’umukiza, a teacher at Shara Primary School in Rusizi District, says that they do their best to see to it that children are disciplined while at school. 

“When pupils are at school, we supervise them closely and nurture them to grow into responsible citizens. Even when the damages caused by a pupil are grave, the issue is sorted out amicably between the parent and school administration,” he says.

Martin Migisha, a teacher at the St. Paul International School in Kigali, also believes that the supervision, especially of young pupils by the teachers, is very necessary. The activities they engage in at school should be regulated.

“Where necessary, we give some light punishment to right the behaviour of our pupils. For instance, we make sure that we supervise the pupils at break time so that no one harms the other as they play. We also monitor their movements so that they don’t escape from the school premises because we would be accountable for their absence,” he explains.

For Josephine Mpororo, a graduate from Universite Libre de Kigali (ULK), parents should embrace their responsibilities more, rather than leave their primary role of modeling children to house helps.

“To avoid trouble culminating from a child’s misbehaviour, parents need to take the lead role in teaching them how to conduct themselves in society. Otherwise, if children are left to grow without proper guidance, parents should be ready to shoulder the burden that comes with their children’s lack of good manners,” she says.