A hurdle to their education

Officials claim it is not possible to prevent parents from migrating with their children as they want their children with them.

November 20 marked the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This, along with the Nobel Peace Prize to a person fighting against child labour, and for the Right to Education of all children have once again brought these twin issues into focus. 

The ongoing PIL in the Karnataka High Court on out-of-school children has also spurred a somnambulant education department to issue several salubrious orders, recognising and accepting, first, that its drop-out figures were an under-estimate and, second, that it is its fundamental duty to ensure that every child is in school.

As a result of the PIL, the government orders have been issued changing the definition of a ‘drop-out’ from that of a ‘child with continuous absence of 60 days’ to that of a ‘child with unexcused absence of seven days’. This definition is unique in the whole country.

This will require officials to give up their laid-back attitude of keeping their eyes closed even as children drop-out and necessitate increased, timely and continuous activity on their part.

It involves a drastic change in the approach of the department from a curative one of identifying and rehabilitating drop-outs at the end of the academic year (if at all they can be found) to a preventive one of retaining every child in school and not allowing him/her to drop-out, thus also seeking to pre-empt child labour.

Rather than sending helpless teachers to persuade parents to send their children to school, a fresh GO has designated cluster-level Education Coordinators as ‘Attendance Authorities’.  A protocol has been devised for them by amending Rule 6 of the RTE Rules.

The amended rule requires them, along with School Development and Monitoring Committee/NGO/Gram Panchayat members, to persuade parents, and provide them necessary assistance to send their child to school. If these measures fail, the Attendance Authority is required to issue notices and bring the parents before the existing Child Welfare Committees (CWC) at district level. 

The CWC has to find solutions to the particular problem being faced by the family/child by converging benefits from various departments on the family, including provision of scholarships. If this too fails, the CWC has to treat the child as a ‘child in need of care and protection’ and place it, as a last resort, in a free government residential school or fit institution as per the Juvenile Justice Act.

Each of these steps is to be undertaken to ensure that the child is back in a learning situation within fixed time-frames of, perhaps, not more than a month. These Rules are reading into our laws the long-pending provisions of the UNCRC.

Knotty problem
Despite these changes and several campaigns to bring back children to school, the government has reported that there are still about 44,148 children out of school.  About 20,490 of them have migrated to other states. This is proving to be a knotty problem as migration is becoming almost a way of life for those with precarious livelihoods. 

Officials continue to plead helplessness and claim that it is not possible to prevent parents from migrating with their children as parents want their children to be constantly before their eyes. Parents believe that they are caring for their children by taking them along when they migrate. Sadly, even after 67 years of Independence, the culture that children’s education should not be disrupted has not been imbibed.

Some seasonal residential schools are being run by the education department at the source of migration for children of parents who are willing to place them there. But no attempts have been made by the department to make it mandatory for parents to place their children there.

They need to convince parents that this is a better option, and in the best interest of their children, than bringing them to work-sites where they will have to live in tin-sheds without ventilation, drinking water, toilets, crèches and schools.

The children will have to wander about half-naked, unkempt and uncared for and even look after younger siblings while their parents work.  Surely, there should be a law that bans the very presence of young children at work-sites, just as it bans their presence in mines and factories.

Attempts are made by the department to run tent schools for children at work-sites at the destination of migration although this won’t be ‘education on the basis of equal opportunity’ as required by the UNCRC. Strangely, the RTE Act, the Contract Labour Act and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen’s

Act do not place any onus on employers/contractors regarding the education of school-age children. Also, the law does not require builders/contractors to provide a crèche if the number of working women at the site is less than, say 50.

As a result of the PIL, these lacunae have now been rectified by the Labour Department by issuing a circular asking all contractors/builders to ferry all 0-6 year-old children at their work-sites to the nearest anganwadi or day-care centre. This is necessary to enable older siblings to attend school.  In addition, all 6-14 year-olds are to be ferried to the nearest school.

But even if our state makes above laws, it will not solve the problem of children in-migrating from other states.  Given the scale of migration in the country, this is an issue that needs to be taken up in the Inter-State Coordination Committees on migration and with the Ministry of Human Resource Development itself for an amendment to the RTE Act itself.

(Prof Chandrashekar is former Minister for Primary & Secondary Education, Karnataka, and former Chairman of the Karnataka Legislative Council.  Chamaraj is Executive Trustee of CIVIC,  Bangalore)
 

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