CHILD Protection & Rights » RTE Impact On CP / CR
"The RTE will directly impact Child Rights and Child Protection in India"
Mumbai: The Right to Education Act has been debated, discussed and deliberated by experts before it became a law. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC) India already recognises fundamental rights of children to Survival, Development, Protection and Participation. Honouring the commitment made to the nation's children in Article 21A of the Constitution, THE RIGHT OF CHILDREN TO FREE AND COMPULSORY EDUICATION ACT 2009 (Popularly referred to as RTE) has now become operational. Activists and organizations in the Child Rights/Child Protection space are now seized of the issue: just what will be the impact of RTE? How will issues under the RTE need to be intervened and how will role of organizations in the space need to evolve? In many ways the RTE is a landmark legislation. It defines the roles of government, schools, duties of parents and even defines the nature/features /facilities of a school. To read about the act and download the act please click here: http://www.childlineindia.org.in/The-Right-of-Children-to-Free-and-Compulsory-Education-Act-2009.htm
We asked Farida Lambay to answer our queries on the RTE and it's impact on Child Protection. Farida Lambay, is the vice principal of Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, Mumbai and Co- Founder, Trustee of Pratham Mumbai, Member Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Member on NCPCR advisory panel for implementation of RTE and Member of Government of India's advisory panel on Child Labour She spoke about the impact of Right to Education act (RTE) on Child Protection. The interview was conducted by Nishit Kumar, Head Communication and Strategic Initiatives and Sudeesh PM, Editor, Hello Childline ( CHILDLINE India Foundation) on December 28, 2010 at Nirmala Niketan College, Mumbai. Excerpts:
Nishit: Farida Lambay, to start with please brief us on the status of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the RTE in Maharashtra. Are both concurrently running? We are little confused on that so please tell us what is the current status?
Farida: As you know, the RTE act is operational since April and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which is a program or as a scheme is also being implemented. There is a slight modification now -instead of looking Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan only for the primary schools that is 6-14, they are looking at even the higher classes- they are calling it the Madhyamic Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the scheme is just being launched.
About confusion, yes, there is a small confusion right now about RTE and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan but what is important, is that Act is supreme and now everything that happens in this sector related to education of children will be governed by Right to Education Act and what I understand is SSA programs are been now merged (with RTE). Some of them are even closed for e.g., the RTE says that every child has to be in a formal school whereas the SSA has schemes which cater to out-of-school children and to the scheme of bridge classes. What I have seen in Mumbai and Maharashtra, they sent, you know kind of GRs to everybody to close down bridge classes and to see that all children have to be a part of the formal school. I also feel that RTE, the act, it has been launched but within the RTE act there is a 3 years window period so what the government is looking at is all children, ideally it's a dream, all children will be in school, should be in school, should be formal in school, however you and me know the reality. What the government has done, it has given itself and all of us a 3 year window period whereby all children will be in school till then there will be certain schemes which will be running simultaneously.
Nishit: Has the Maharashtra government has set aside a budget and a grant for RTE?
Farida: Yes. The Maharashtra government has set budget for RTE and SSA money which has coming in is partly been also used as the RTE grant.
Nishit: As you are aware, India is a signatory to UN CRC- in your opinion, the four basic rights of a child: Survival, Development, Protection and Participation- are they adequately provided for in our legislative framework?
Farida: (her answer is about whether RTE Act provides for the 4 CRs-Nishit) If you looking at legistatory framework of RTE, the act, then no, it is the way you, kind of absolutely interpret these rights in the RTE. My first response would be: yes, the Right to Education is very beautiful piece of document and it has taken care of all the clauses. If you talk about development, we are saying that all children must have education, and every children must be school and through the right develop is right protection. If you looking at child's recreation and child's right to play then in the act it is also saying that an ideal school should have a sports ground, all the equipment and extra care activities so basically one is again talking about Right to Recreation and Right to Development so I would see it kind of covers. The other part in the RTE act is also talking about Protection and for me that's the very very important aspect of all the rights of children because I feel the Right to protection is a supreme right and even education should be looked in the umbrella of the protection, so in the Right to Protection, to go more specific I would say that in the RTE act, just now they are talking about Corporal punishment is bad, any kind of a torture, mental trauma for the children is bad, under that clause, they have banned exams, saying children shouldn't be given examination and that examination is banned not for anything else but don't label the child so you are violating right of the child to be unique so don't label the child at the same time, have what is called a comprehensive continuous evaluation so that you are you are not only looking at the child from academic side but looking at all the extra curricular and other skills that, the potential that child has and I think if the education act is saying that, I think it's a big step towards protection of the child.
Nishit: The RTE has added a new right for children of 6-14 i.e., Right to Education. In your opinion, is the government geared up for the implication of recognizing this as a Child Right?
Farida: I feel the Government is- atleast if you looking at Maharashtra state and what i am seeing and what i am feeling all around is, there is a lot of orientation and lot of prabhodan's which had happening at all level, you know the bureaucracy, the officers and every day one is hearing about meetings. Thanks to the civil society partners, see whether it is UNICEF and whether it is other partners, I think they along with the government and all of us are also trying to make the government gear up for this right. There is one part of government, at different levels, saying that's we don't need NGOs at all and government will do everything, for me it's a good story that government is saying that. How far it will be implemented, time will tell us but I am going around Maharashtra and a lot of offices whatever the reason may be they are saying that we don't want NGO's but we are geared up for this entire act. What the government is geared up I can see now, is basically they are geared up for bringing all children in school. All children in school, basically children who are not in difficult circumstances.
Nishit: For bringing in children to school or setting up of the school Infrastructure?
Farida: I would say, for bringing children in school and therefore what is automatically, when you bring children to school, you need infrastructure and you need teachers. Ok, so all that I think they are quite geared up. What they are not geared up is the qualitative aspect: How are we going to really put the child who is on the last step of the ladder and most difficult circumstances, how is he going to be put in school and how is he going be retained. I think we are really not geared up and the other one which we are not really geared up is differently abled children (disability) and there is a huge gap. If you look at the Right to protection, and talking about every child- I think government is not so geared up for that.
Nishit: The NCPCR and the SCPCRs have a defined role in RTE monitoring in the Act. How are NCPCR / SCPCR geared for handling issues of RTE? Have they defined any mechanism or protocols?
Farida: NCPCR, has now set up an advisory committee on education alone and I also happen to be part of that committee and there are many from government and non government sector are on this committee. The term of reference of this committee has been to look at RTE act, how do we help/facilitate/monitor, the RTE act and what does the national commission do to get every child in school and actually implement the RTE act. I think much progress has been done, we have already met about 5 times, and there is a special cell now on RTE act within the NCPCR, there are one or two people who are dedicated on this cell. Across the country, they have now appointed (some states have already appointed) called Education Officers/ State representatives who will help NCPCR to monitor the implementation of RTE because NCPCR is not implementing body neither SCPCR is implementing body. So I think NCPCR, on that terms, it is doing well. What is not happening and needs to happen is that, under the RTE act, SCPCR who are supposed to be implementing at state level- there are many states where SCPCR is not been established (SCPCR has been established in only five states) so instead of that there is a regulatory authority for monitoring the education, (it is also again part of the act). What I think NCPCR is doing is pressurizing every state governments to establish a SCPCR, which I think it is again not happening. Looking at Maharashtra and of which I am the member, Maharashtra State Commission is already in place, 7 members are already there. This is the only commission which has all the members in place and there is an office and there is a TOR given to the commission and RTE is one of the very important mandate. As a part of the commission, what we have done is that, we held regional consultations all over Maharashtra, we are about to start a helpline in SCPCR.We were looking at it whether we should have a helpline starting in the commissions office or should we be partnering with CHILDLINE. Because CHILDLINE is already under Ministry of Women and Child Development department and has a helpline and whether we could partner with CHILDLINE and instead of having another helpline for children (why don't we talk to CIF) now that collaboration has to still happen. Under the RTE act/rules, commission should be starting a helpline on education which can be accessed by anybody, a child or any adult. Another thing which we are planning to have for commission is, the MP/SP i.e., Maharashtra Shikhshan Parishath, who is implementing authority of RTE has money for the commission to monitor per school. The commission is going to look at how we will monitor. RTE has given mandate to commission to monitor through its agencies.
Nishit: Do you have any protocol/ mechanism to address issues to NCPCR/SCPCR?
Farida: Basically, NCPCR is now creating one protocol, SCPCR needs to have a protocol, what we have is that, we have a mandate to issue summons, we can have hearing of different people, but we still have a recommendary power, it is not that you can punish the violation, you can recommend and to tell you very frankly, we have not been able to actually implement our mandate 100% but we are still in the process, what we need to do- this is my personal opinion and it may not commission's- is that looking at the mandate, what we really need to do is that, we need to go region wise, district wise and create helplines and create committees, to see how the education right is implemented at the district level because sitting in Mumbai, you can't talk about RTE, being implemented. The other thing which is happening is that we are creating awareness drive all over State so that any violations like not admitting the children, charging fees, having any kind of discrimination, not having space in school, all these cases can be reported to the Commission. To tell you the truth that many cases have come to Commission and Commission has handled it by putting them up to different departments so I think it is just the matter of the time that we need to make people aware so that directly children can also come to the Commission.
I would be very happy, if a child picks up a helpline with CHILDLINE or at the helpline of Commission and say I have been thrown out or I haven't been admitted in the school.
Nishit: In your opinion who will have to play the role of ''intervention'' to children who fail to benefit from RTE? What would such intervention imply?
Farida: I think, first of all, RTE is already implemented and as far as the deadline is concerned, by September, all school management committee in Maharashtra should have been in place but court cases (private schools related to 25% quota) in Mumbai is not solved so that is the big issue coming up. In rural areas of Maharashtra, the school committees have already been in place. They have already said that management committees are ON but who is there in the management committees and what is their orientation is a question mark now and when we are talking about the development sector, i think one very important role of any Organisations whether CHILDLINE or Pratham, is they have a role in positioning themselves and in seeing whether the RTE is being implemented. We must make sure that we have data, we have case studies, we identify violations and bring it to the government and say that these are the violations and make sure this happens so it is an intervention role but I have slightly different opinion that I see lot of NGOs have running and starting classes and schools- this is clearly the government's role.
I think development sector has not realised the role and not ready to take on this role, vigilant role. We talk about advocacy but advocacy also needs to be defined. Though we talk about the role of government -this is clear but even today there are gaps about quality education, children are not still learning whether in Bombay or in Maharashtra. Now there are meetings happening everywhere and some of the NGOs are a part of those meeting with government so where we are saying that the advocacy is how do you make the syllabus pro-child and how do you make the entire continuous evaluation not a joke but actually looking at the child's academic development. I think some of the NGOs have to play that role as well. One is demonstrating this can be done and secondly then come to a step of advocacy and then telling the government. Just now what is happening is that we are in a mix bag, government is implementing, planning, and government wants some NGO to come and implement for them.
Nishit: Chapter 3 Clause 8 of the act defines the responsibility of the government. How will they be held accountable for this? If the govt fails in this how will the child rights be enforced?
Farida: One is that creation of autonomous bodies, State Commissions who are suppose to play these roles. Ideally speaking, they should be given teeth and authority to force this as it is autonomous body and it is not a govt body though it is an act of the state. Secondly I feel what is not yet clear which need to be debated get it in the sector is that when you say a child finishes his/her standard 8 or successful completion of the fundamental RTE mandate. What do we mean by that, what is successful completion? So are we going to say that the child that now you finished age 14 so he/she is not within the mandate of RTE act or are we saying that he /she successfully completed 8th Standard and now can go to 9th Standard? Maharashtra government is not very clear about this yet. Second thing which is not very clear is that, who is accountable? Tomorrow, my child who has gone till 8th standard and i see him in 9th standard and he doesn't know anything. Who is going responsible for that, is it the teacher or the school, principal? There are not very clear mechanisms yet putforth and that is the one of the action points of the SCPCR, also the development sector need to work on this which is also a very grey area.
Nishit: Clause 11 of chapter 3 indicates that the govt may provide free- pre school education to 3-6 year old to prepare them for school? How will this be implemented?
Farida: No, Maharashtra government have no plans but the Municipal Corporation has becomes little more progressive infact they have got a plan and they have already started pre school within their own school buildings but Maharashtra government- atleast till date- I have not seen any plan except the ICDS for below the age of 6 years but pre school component in that is very very limited so nothing to say on entire pre school, therefore one of the thing that I personally and Pratham and other organisations should create a kind of a white paper and give it to the new minister who has just taken over, a very young minister to really look at the preschool element being introduced in the Anganwadi's and also have a kind of school readiness program in std one, because in Mumbai for example, it is impossible to start pre school program everywhere, looking at the migration, number of children. you can never say u have covered all children. My suggestion to Maharashtra government will be to look at ICDS program, make that a strong program, and have your pre school program as formal program within the ICDS because you have the money, infrastructure, teachers in place and need a little bit of effort for training Second thing is that look at the pre school with all the corporations in Maharashtra whether it is Nashik, Aurangabad and introduce the school within the municipal corporations itself so that the dropout date is low. That way you are also trying to be within the mandate for fundamental to right to education.
One of the problems is that there is no ICDS program in Urdu and Hindi but only in Marathi so looking at Mumbai specially, M ward in Mumbai, most of the family speak Urdu and children don't want to go ICDS program as their mother tongue is not Marathi and hence stay out of school. One aspect is that you need a very accurate database as to how many Anganwadi are there and how many Anganwadi are actually functioning, what is the status of the Anganwadi's today? There is enough scope of development sector to position them and say that this is the status. Pre schools program could be Ward specific and school specific. Schools could give premises and also can have PPP where Municipal Corporation could give premises and NGOs could provide teachers. School should open their door for pre-school.
Nishit: The responsibility of schools is defined in the act. Who is the enforcement mechanism for this? How will intervention against schools be handled?
Farida: Act gives the rule. There are district rules which have come up.Maharashtra government has put up the state rules. Karnataka state rules are quite progressive. While rules are defined, in the State rules they have also defined penalties like violations, given procedures so I think Maharashtra government will also follow soon, once that's happen, we will be much more clearer. Secondly, there will be a window where such complaint will be accepted. A dedicated RTE officer, will be there. Complainants need to visit the officer and case has to be heard in 8 to 10 days and if they don't listen to it then you can go to next step. The gap in the act is that child can't go directly to the court for the violations. It does violate Article 21 (A) (of the Constitution). If you really look strictly by act then you can't directly go to the court so there is a big gap. I think amendment will have to take place in this.
Nishit: Clause 16 of chapter 4 says no child may be expelled or held back? How will this affect schools who have annual exam system for promotion?
Farida: You can't have annual examination now. So they have infact also passed a resolution everywhere that you can't have annual examination. The opposite has happened, the flip side, that all children should be passed. See, the clause and act, if you go very carefully, it not saying that, all children should be passed, the logic of this is instead of having one exam at the end of the year and child vomiting everything of his knowledge, you have continuous comprehensive evaluation (CCE) and you have very focused educational outcome/ goals against that child should be looked at. The act says that. Maharashtra government didn't have any indicators. As i am talking to you, they are working and having meetings going on with government and NCERT. This means moving to a system where uniformly all schools will follow one practice of examination system.
Nishit: Clause 17 (1) of chapter 4 prohibits physical punishment and mental harassment. What are the definitions for these? What the intervention that can be done for this? Will violating Schools/ teachers be booked with a FIR?
Farida: In the state rules, they have been defined. The corporal punishment is not only physical but also mental torture, class/ community discrimination. The State rules have defined all this. They are looking at Service rules (of teachers) at school; they are amending it and looking at service rules. They are discussing with union. There might be a little resistance and this is not going to be an easy task but NCPCR and with govt authority and needs to be take this on. This is enforceable. Just now government has passed all GRs which have no financial implications, like close down this, close down that and now they are coming to quality issues and slowly they will come to out-of-school children because that is under SSA. That's going on. About school, definitions, teachers and teachers services rules etc are ticklish issues. I feel teachers have to be taken in confidence. I feel a lot of dialogue has to happen with teachers. The entire RTE act is now implemented, the onus is on the government and engine is teachers and principal at school is vehicle. Some how I feel that teachers have not taken on both fully and I think teachers have to be taken in complete confidence; I don't feel we, even in the development sector are having a dialogue with teachers, whether it is teacher's union, teacher union representatives. We have bashing the teachers and not really understood what the roles of teachers under RTE act are and just now they are the people who are very important to us. Currenly there are no dialogue and there should be dialogue and no mechanism for dialogue. Development sector should take the initiative.
Nishit: Clause 17 (2) merely suggests violations will be subject to disciplinary action under service rules applicable. Do schools have any service rules about this?
Farida: The State is setting up a local institution with a window mechanism where parents can approach the RTE officer with their complaints (similar to RTI officer). The officer is going to government officer from education department. As SCPCR, if committees are formed, they not only help the SCPCR to monitor but also to be alert at violations. They can also play a role with these officers and can bridge the gap. Gram panchayat, School management committee, Village level committee, if these bodies can be strengthened and if we can look at the education as a major agenda with these panchayats, I think we will do a good job instead of just squarely depend on the act.
The act defines duty of a parent, we have to live with shades of grey and in this country we don't have a black and white. Though we say, we are developed country and we are having people who are poor and for economic reasons or whatever reasons they may not send their child to school (a small percentage). I feel, if it is made compulsory, then there is a chance of corruption that then inspectors coming to your door and saying send your child to the school. There is an another way to overcome this, under JJ Act, clause 16, if parent/father is found to be negligent or unfit, the child can't be kept with him so that act (JJAct) can be interpreted for even education instead of having another penalty in the education act. If you really go around the country and really see, you will notice that poorest of the poor want their children to learn and it is not about giving them a stick but it is to give them a carrot and the carrot has to be that the schools have to be of an excellent quality- act is defining school, act is saying what is an ideal school, act is saying school must have a ground, music room so if school is so attractive and the children want to go to the school, that is dream that we all have.
The development sector haven't looked on this issue yet but need to come to together on this issue. In this last 10 years many changes have taken place: JJB act in place. Protection scheme in place, there is pressures from International community. We need to engage the government and not bash them. Not all civil society partners have a good idea of RTE and NGOs organisation need to have understood the RTE act fully. We also need to study the act and look at clause by clause and how do we converge with JJ act and what are the overlapping. If we loose out on that, we will miss the bus. The RTE is going to have an extraordinary impact on child protection initiatives in the country because the kind of clauses it has. We should also study the act properly and wait and watch in the sense and don't get in to the action immediately but study the act properly. Let us engage the government and let us demonstrate them and let all of us be on one page.
Nishit: School is an important space for a child. Do you think for some reasons we missed the bus on making the Child Protection Policy, a part of the statutory infrastructure/program in schools?
Farida: Every school under RTE act must adopt a standardised child protection policy in fact what we need to do immediately is that while the RTE has been talking about infrastructure development- starting about constructing schools, we need to list out all the protections clauses in the RTE and operationalise it to action polices and need to be made compulsory and then the state rules. The basic safety is a requirement and we need to make sure a Child friendly space is provided for children. We loose out very often as we talk about right to freedom, participation which are notional but NGOs need to be concrete. The Government wants to do tangibles and we will be very progressive if we do one(CPP). The commission is already looking at a Child protection policy as govt doesn't have a policy. The subset of the policy can be entire thing on protection.
Nishit: Final word on impact of RTE on Child protection
Farida: Final word is that i am very hopeful that RTE will protect the child. I think RTE will have an impact and we should be able to protect our children, especially children who are in the most difficult circumstances. The focus must be on the poorest and most vulnerable since these groups are the most disempowered and at the greatest risk of violation or denial of their right to education.I think we owe it to them so the future generation children are protected.