Bunking school may seem trivial to some, but a recent operation has revealed the seriousness of the matter.
Schools, police stations, neighbourhood watches, Bambanani officials and community police forum (CPF) members from several problem areas joined forces in an operation on Thursday, 17 April in attempt to stem the problem.
The brief was for bunkers and drop-outs to be brought to police stations for counselling by victim support volunteers. This was intended to give an indication as to why children were not at school.
The principals of Mountview and Crystal High Schools, as well as Summit Primary School, provided Philippi police with lists of the names and home addresses of their absentees.
Mixed groups of roleplayers then patrolled the streets in cars - looking for "strollers" (children walking the streets when they should be at school) - and visited the homes of absent learners.
People's Post drove in one of these vehicles. Most parents visited were under the impression that their children were at school.
The initiative was met with mixed reactions from the community. Some residents were pleased with the fact that these children were going to be picked up and taken back to school. "It's right, they don't belong on the streets. They must go to school and get an education," said one woman.
Others hurled insults at those picking up the children, feeling they should be targeting the criminals instead.
In one instance, a 14-year-old boy was stopped and asked why he was not at school. He told the detective that he was a drop-out, and had last attended Athwood Primary School. The boy's mother then approached the vehicle and contradicted her son's story. She said he attended a school in Mitchell's Plain, and that he did not have taxi fare to get to school that day.
In one hour, 34 children between the ages of 14 and 18 were picked up in Hanover Park. Of these children, only one 18-year-old boy from Crystal High School had permission to be out of school - he had a letter from the principal stating that he should go home because he was caught smoking dagga on the school premises that morning.
This boy admitted to having a drug problem, and will be receiving continued counselling from the victim support volunteers.
In Lansdowne, a further 25 children were picked up and brought to the police station. Susan Shabangu, Deputy Minister of Safety and Security, briefly visited the station and met with these children.
According to Shabangu, when she asked the children why they were not at school, their answers ranged from, "Because it's not nice," to, "My parents said I must look after our house".
Senior Superintendent Charlene Chandler, of Lansdowne Police Station, said that most of the children found loitering in the area were not from Lansdowne and did not attend any of the local schools.
Many of those found came from the Flamingo and Freedom Park informal settlements, and are not registered at any school. Two teenagers were picked up while trying to sell scrap to a local dealer. They were accompanied by their father at the time.
This, said Chandler, is just one example of how parents use their children and place them at a disadvantage. Anthony Daniels, Hanover Park CPF chairperson, called on parents and the community as a whole to tackle the problem of truancy.
"There is no discipline - children are running to 'sugar houses', and this is what leads to the high drop-out rate," Daniels said.
A sugar house refers to a place where children can go to do whatever they please, including using drugs and alcohol. Often there is no adult supervision.
"The police can't fight this on their own - the whole community must get involved."