The Toilet Crisis: inequality and the right to sanitation

11 July 2016

In January 2014, people around the world were horrified to learn that a young boy had drowned after falling in a pit latrine at his school in the Limpopo province in South Africa. Although not the first of its kind, the horrifying event raised awareness of the realities that exist for many South African schools. It is not uncommon for schools and Early Childhood Development Centres to lack flushing toilets, leading to sanitation issues and a grave lack of privacy for the children. There is often no sink for washing hands and no accommodations for female students during menstruation. Class time is wasted while students wait in line to use toilets, which often only consist of a pit in the ground. Many of the ECD centres that Breadline Africa has worked with lack these basic amenities and faculty constantly stress their dire need for new infrastructure. Toilets may not be the first necessity that donors think of when they decide to provide aid, but it is one of the most important.

Although there are sanitation standards surrounding school toilets, lack of funding prohibits many schools from meeting the requirements. In 2013, Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure were imposed by the Minister of Education – flushing toilets are, in fact, a standard requirement for all public schools.

However, according to Equal Education, “913 do not have any ablution facilities while 11 450 schools are still using pit latrine toilets” (Equal). The inequalities that plague South African society are evident in school toilet distribution. By publishing standards, the government has acknowledged that every child has a right to a quality and clean education but efforts to fulfil this right have largely fallen to the non-governmental sector. Organizations like Breadline Africa are working to provide centres with toilets, kitchens and classrooms in order to give children a dignified education. Our shipping container toilets allow ECD centres privacy and sanitation, things that much of the world take for granted. 

In 2015, Breadline Africa placed a toilet container at Little Angels Educare Centre in Hout Bay. Before this launch, the children at this centre had to make use of two hired portable toilets that often fell over in the high winds that Cape Town is well known for. The toilets, funded by the generous donors of Breadline Africa, consisted of a 6m shipping container converted into four children’s toilets and one adult toilet, plus washing basins. The children have since been taught how to use these facilities and how to keep themselves healthy and free of diseases like diarrhoea, which plague many children living in poverty. Little Angels, along with many other Early Childhood Development Centres that have received toilets, represents the success and transformation that can come from a donation as simple as proper toilet facilities. Breadline Africa’s efforts to provide sanitation for children across South Africa is only possible with the help of donors and people who are passionate about the future of our children. Help us fight inequality and give every child a chance to reach their full potential.


Written by: Christine Oswald


Hilliar, Andrew. “Boy’s death in S. African put toilet highlights appalling school sanitation.” The Observers. France 24. 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 4 July 2016.

“School Infrastructure.” School Infrastructure. Equal Education. Web. 4 July 2016.

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