Identity and Orphans’ Right to Education

26/04/2012 – While the Right to Education Act in India lays the foundation to drastically expand access to basic schooling, orphans' lack of identification may get in the way of their ability to enjoy this.

India’s Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act entitleds all children between the ages of 6 and 14 to free primary school. Passed in 2009, the Act is a truly historic one when it comes to children’s right to education—a right that about eight million children were missing out on when the act was passed.

When implemented, families will pay no direct costs or indirect costs for their children's schooling. This means no school fees and no paying for uniforms, textbooks, lunches and transportation.

The act also requires the inclusion of 50 per cent females and parents of low-income families. But, this tenet has run into several snags, as some schools or districts have found ways to circumvent the system.

Now, the need to make a paper trail may keep the most vulnerable children from the classrooms. While the act reserves a quarter of the seats for poor children, it also requires families/children to present certificates of earning, caste and birth, among other forms of identification. Without them, children are not admitted.

For orphaned and abandoned children, in particular, this presents a real problem, since they often come into childcare institutions with no documentation.

Primary schooling and birth certificates are rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is the most widely-ratified international human rights instrument in the world. (India is a state party to this convention). The situation facing Indian orphans helps highlight the significance of indivisibility and interdependence of children’s rights.

Rajasthan Minister for Education Brij Kishore Sharma will look into the matter of orphans’ documentation and the RTE, the Times of India reports. Meanwhile, Shiv Charan Meena, the Education Officer for Jaipur, is looking to the government to provide documentation guidelines for orphans as a special category.

India is home to an estimated 31 million orphans—children under the age of 18 who have lost one or both of their parents. There are no official figures used by international sources on the number of children who are AIDS orphans, but estimates put the number at about 1.5 million. Some of these children are HIV-positive themselves.