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Migrant kids’ schooling at risk

A Cambodian migrant worker and her children cross the Thai border
A Cambodian migrant worker and her children cross the Thai border. The Thai government is reconsidering its free-education policy, which could effect migrant workers and their children. Vireak Mai

Migrant kids’ schooling at risk

A plan floated in Thailand to cut state educational support to migrant workers’ children has drawn the ire of rights groups, which say thousands of Cambodian youths could be denied their basic right to education.

According to Thai media, Kamol Rodklai, secretary-general of the Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC), has said that the number of foreign students in Thailand could increase to 250,000 within three years, leading the commission to reconsider the government’s policy of offering free education.

Kamol said that help for these students might be limited to tuition and learning equipment, with their parents to be asked to pay for student uniforms, books and development activities.

Rights groups said yesterday that this was not acceptable.

Frequently, “migrant parents are paid much less than the minimum wage, have little medical or other benefits and have very minimal savings – meaning that they usually lack the funds to pay for books, uniforms and other requirements that attending a Thai school entails,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said.

Robertson added that the alternative to the “education for all” policy would be “scores of migrant children dropping out of schools”, which would violate Thailand’s obligations under international law to ensure that all children have the right to primary education.

Phal Bunthy, a construction worker from Battambang province, has struggled to provide his 7-year-old daughter with an education since they moved to Thailand about two months ago.

Having not yet found a permanent rental home, he claims it has been impossible to enrol his daughter in what should be an all-inclusive education system free to all.

“We want her to go to a Thai school, but we have not been able to,” he said yesterday.

Bunthy added that after making it through the door, his 6-year-old niece, who recently returned to Cambodia, struggled to integrate.

After her parents footed the cost of food, transport and clothing, Bunthy said that his niece felt “isolated” and did “not have a lot of friends to play with”.

This isolation is something that Adisorn Kerdmongkol of Thai NGO Migrant Working Group said would only get worse if the cuts were made.

“The attitude of Thailand to migrant children may be even more negative,” he said by email, adding that it could create greater “disparity” between Thai and migrant children.

Kerdmongkol also questioned OBEC’s estimates.

With an average increase of 13,000 people per year, Kerdmongkol said the number of migrant children in schools – which he said currently stands at 113,067 – “will not exceed 160,000 people”.

Robertson of Human Rights Watch said that while the proposed cuts were “not surprising”, the “issue is that the larger idea of free and compulsory primary education for all should not be compromised”.

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