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Sunday 20 October 2019
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Commentary

Respecting rights of children to education

TTUTA

THE RECENT decision of the Government to have all nationals of neighbouring Venezuela in TT duly registered and given work permits for a period of one year must be duly applauded. This would give those people a marked level of protection as migrant workers as well as to not be an undue burden on the State.

Many nations have had to grapple with this dilemma of mass migrations of people fleeing political persecution and economic hardship. There are never any easy answers to these situations and our response to them must be guided by international treaties and conventions in the absence of specific national policy positions on the issue.

It is therefore disheartening to learn that in this arrangement there is no provision for the children from Venezuela to access some form of schooling, notwithstanding our international obligations, having signed and ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. It must be noted that having done so we are bound to by international law; it is legally binding.

Article 22 of the convention states:

“States parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are parties.”

While the Education Act defines the compulsory school age as being five-12 years and alludes to the duty of parents to secure the education of their children in Section 78, our Constitution does not guarantee children the right to education but curiously guarantees parents the right to choose a school to which their child can attend.

Article 28 of the convention reminds:

“States parties recognise the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

“(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;

“(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need.”

Failure to allow children of these migrant families to access schooling risks exposing them to neglect or other forms of exploitation. Article 32 of the convention specifically addresses this issue as follows:

“States parties recognise the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

While the challenge of allowing these children to access schooling is perfectly understandable, this is a unique situation that requires a unique response. Relevant stakeholders must therefore put their heads together to arrive at a creative solution to the problem, recognising that either way there will be some form of disruption. Space in many of our schools is a first challenge, closely followed by the language and cultural barriers.

At the secondary level the language barrier might be easier to overcome, given that Spanish is a compulsory subject for all students of Forms 1-3, but the situation at the primary school would require a more creative approach. This would not be a challenge unique to TT. Many European countries would have walked this road.

Our maturity as a society is being tested here. We can either see the problem as insurmountable or as one that can be confronted head on with the right political resolve.

Education International, of which TTUTA is a proud affiliate, clearly states that refugee children must have the right to an education in keeping with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children cannot be denied the right to education owing to circumstances beyond their control.

We may recall that the decision of the Government to ban corporal punishment in schools was precipitated by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a people we must adhere to and staunchly uphold universally accepted principles of human rights. We must see and treat the education of all children as a basic human right.

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