By Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Until legal amendments are made, the compulsory age of education in the Trinidad and Tobago Education Act 1966 is six to 12 years.
“I don’t think that 12-year-olds are ready to leave school,” said Justice Andrea Smart at the Catholic Religious Education Development Institute’s (CREDI) CREDItable Conversations Educational Symposium, The Law in Education February 16. Justice Smart highlighted sections of the Act in her talk on ‘Parental Responsibility in Law’.
Parents have the right to make decisions on behalf of their children and where paternity is established, fathers have equal right to make decisions, unless a court order changes the status quo, she said.
Section 4 of T&T’s Constitution, addressed the right of a parent or guardian to provide a school of choice for the education of the child. “It does not specifically say the child has a right to an education, it states a parent or guardian has the right to provide a school of his or her choice,” Justice Smart said.
The parent is legally responsible to ensure a child of compulsory school age goes to school either by registering the child or making other arrangements for them to receive an efficient, full-time education. Section 78 lists the instances where a child may be excused from school.
The sanctions for neglecting to send a child to school is a fine of $75 and the magistrate can impose a $300 bond. Justice Smart said the sanctions suggest not enough importance is placed on the obligation of parents to ensure the child receives efficient, full-time education.
While the onus is on parents, she acknowledged the social factors—poverty, unaddressed mental health issues, drug abuse, domestic abuse, disabilities of parents and/children— which can cause children to be absent from school. Justice Smart said, “What about people who have no money to give them (children) taxi fares? We have to address these issues.”
During her presentation she highlighted Conventions which T&T signed, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She mentioned Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which dealt with child refugees having the same rights as the child in the jurisdiction. “It seems to me that child refugees have a right to be in school,” she said.
Justice Smart said the state is obligated “to ensure that legislation incorporate and the judiciary interprets the law in accordance with international treaties.”
During Q and A, Leela Ramdeen, Chair, Catholic Commission for Social Justice said the government had consultations on the Education Act. Many people drew attention to the need for amendments to the section on compulsory education “particularly as it is not aligned with what is in the Children’s Authority Act; let’s hope they address that”.
Ramdeen said Archbishop Jason Gordon established the Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees and there are 300 – 500 children with families who were mainly asylum seekers. “The Attorney General reminded us that although we have signed on to these international treaties, we have not incorporated them into local law which means sadly those children are not entitled to entries into our schools,” Ramdeen said.
She gave the example of a principal who was told she could face jail if she admitted children of asylum seekers into her school. As parishes responded to the needs of the refugees Ramdeen called for advocacy. “We have to pressure those at the top so these children have a right to education as they should.”