There is no government school close enough for sisters Afreen Sheikh, 12, and Reshma, 9, to go to in Govandi, so they are forced to attend a private school.
For the sisters, who just began to attend school because fees were a problem earlier, “school is fun”. Similarly, in Bhagwati Mali’s village studying beyond Class 7 is virtually impossible, simply because there is no school beyond that level in the Rarp taluka area in Kutch, Gujarat, where she lives.
Currently, in Class 7, Mali, 12, wants to become a doctor. But at this age, in her village, parents begin to look for grooms for the girls, or keep them at home to do household work.
Mali, Afreen and Reshma were among a group of girls who spoke at a conference in the city on Friday, aimed at highlighting the voice of children in the cacophony of opinions on the newly enacted Right To Education (RTE) Act.
“In our village, the parents are reluctant to send girls far away to study, so they get them to do housework or work in the fields,” said Mali. “There are just no schools nearby.”
While the RTE Act mandates education as a right, the reality indicates lack of access for several children in rural areas.
“We are lobbying for a school in every neighbourhood with infrastructure, potable water, toilet facilities,” said Kreeanne Rabadi, regional director (west) of the not-for-profit CRY.
The RTE Act only covers free education for children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. “We have also been saying that the Act should cover children from zero to 18 years, because what does a child do after 14 years?” she said.
Co-founder of educational non-profit group Pratham and member of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Farida Lambay, spoke as the chief guest at the event. “For the first time education has become an entitlement and it is the responsibility of the government to provide it,” said Lambay tell the government that it is their responsibility to take care of all the children that are out of school.”
Maharashtra, as a progressive state, should provide free education till Class 10, she said.