School authorities in India persistently discriminate against children from marginalized communities, denying them their right to education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Four years after an ambitious education law went into effect in India guaranteeing free schooling to every child ages 6 to 14, almost every child is enrolled, yet nearly half are likely to drop out before completing their elementary education.
The 77-page report, `The Say Were Dirty : Denying an Education to Indias Marginalized, documents discrimination by school authorities in four Indian states against Dalit, tribal, and minority children. The discrimination creates an unwelcome atmosphere that can lead to truancy and eventually may lead the child to stop going to school. Weak monitoring mechanisms fail to identify and track children who attend school irregularly, are at risk of dropping out, or have dropped out.
Indias immense project to educate all its children risks falling victim to deeply rooted discrimination by teachers and other school staff against the poor and marginalized, said Jayashree Bajoria, India researcher and author of the report. Instead of encouraging children from at-risk communities who are often the first in their families to ever step into a classroom, teachers often neglect or even mistreat them.
Detailed case studies examine how the lack of accountability and grievance redress mechanisms are continuing obstacles to proper implementation of the Right to Education Act.
Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Delhi, interviewing more than 160 people, including children, parents, teachers, and a wide range of education experts, rights activists, local authorities, and education officials.
The Indian government should adopt more effective measures to monitor the treatment of vulnerable children and provide accessible redress mechanisms to ensure they remain in the classroom, Human Rights Watch said. According to the government, nearly half over 80 million children drop out before completing their elementary education.
In drafting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, the central government recognized exclusion of children as the single most important challenge in universalizing elementary education. But many education department officials at state, district, and local levels have been unwilling to acknowledge or accept that discrimination occurs in government schools, let alone attempt to resolve these problems, Human Rights Watch said.
The report states children from Dalit, tribal, and minority communities are often made to sit at the back of the class or in separate rooms, insulted by the use of derogatory names, denied leadership roles, and served food last. They are even told to clean toilets, while children from traditionally privileged groups are not.
Non-discrimination and equality are fundamental to the Right to Education Act and yet the law provides no penalties for violators, Bajoria said. If schools are to become child-friendly environments for all of Indias children, the government needs to send a strong message that discriminatory behavior will no longer be tolerated and those responsible will be held to account.
Most state education departments have failed to establish proper mechanisms to monitor each child, and intervene promptly and effectively to ensure they remain in school, it added.