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School Regulations Against Migrant Children’s Rights

By Phonsavanh Vongsay
The Vientiane Times

“I want to go back home, I do not want to stay here.”

These are the words of a 6-year-old Burmese girl, Suu Wa, who came to Samut Sakhon one year ago with her mother, who was looking for a better income. Her mother found a job, but Suu Wa, like most migrant children in Thailand, cannot go to school.

“I want to stay with my grandparents in Burma and enter school; there is no school here,” she said biting her finger nervously while seated on a chair surrounded by four other Burmese children at a drop-in center for migrant workers.

Suu Wa (not her real name) lives with her mother who works as a shrimp peeler. They illegally came to Thailand.

“My mother does not allow me to go back,” she said. “My mother said we do not have money.”

Her mother gets about 180 to 200 baht per day from shrimp peeling.

“My 12-year-old brother also cannot go to school,” she added. Everyday he collects rubbish for sale such as plastic bottles, iron and copper.

Migrant children often do not get an education because they have to quit school in Burma to follow their parents or relatives as migrant workers to find more income in another country, especially in Thailand, and the Thai education system does not welcome them. These people are poor and hardly able to support their families.

Today there are over 60,000 migrant children in Thailand, according to Ms. Jackie Pollock, Project Coordinator of Migrant Action Programme (MAP) in Chiang Mai. Some of these children were born in Thailand.

There are about 5,000 to 10,000 children among the estimated 200,000 migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, according to Raks Thai Foundation, which serves migrant workers and operates the drop-in center where Suu Wa was interviewed.

About 300 to 400 migrant children are entered in the public primary schools in Samut Sakhon, said Mr. Sompong Srakaew, Filed Coordinator for the Raks Thai Foundation.

“Very few children are enrolled in secondary school” he said.

According to MAP, there are an estimated 10,000 migrant children in Mae Sot District, Tak Province on Thailand’s northern border with Burma.

Yet only about 200 migrant Burmese children entered the public primary schools in Mae Sot District, said Mr. Aung Myo Min, director of Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB).

The public schools are free of charge for the term, but the children have to buy their own uniforms and educational equipment, he said. Everything is charged after the primary school.

“But most migrant children can only study at primary schools, no more secondary school or higher education for them,” he stressed. “Because they do not have enough documents that the schools want, especially ID cards (proof of citizenship).” The children mostly finish primary school at ages 10 to 11.

Aung Myo Min said that to solve the problem of those migrant children who could not enter the public schools, and NGO opened schools for them. There were about 1,200 to 1,500 migrant Burmese children in private schools run by NGOs in Ranong Province, and they are free of charge for the term, including uniforms and educational equipment, and students can complete secondary school, he said.

“Everything is free because it is an NGO school, not a public or Thai school,” Aung Myo Min added. Today there are 25 NGO schools nationwide for children of Burmese migrant workers, including 20 in Mae Sot District.

According to a Mekong Children’s Forum on Human Trafficking Report in October last year, “Children are the future of every country, and the ones who can ensure a country’s sustainable development. The children should be provided opportunities for free, quality education, in particular children at high risk of trafficking and victims of trafficking. They should be provided scholarships without discrimination, even if they do not have nationality in the country where they are residing. They should have access to marketable vocational training and specific skills training and be provided with non-formal education literacy programmes in communities for children.”

There are many reason why migrant children do not go to school.

“I used to enter a primary school, but I stopped because Thai bully boys hit me,” said a 13-year-old Burmese boy, Min Thet (not his real name), while he was sleeping with his three friends on a hammock under a small wooden house. The house floor was only about one meter high from the ground in Samut Sakhon.

Ms. Suthasinee Nawa, a field officer of Raks Thai Foundation, said migrant children often cannot enter school because they cannot speak the Thai language, and some children had transport problems because their parents lived far from school. Many of them were hardly supported by their families due to lack of money, and others just stayed in Thailand for awhile and then went back to their families.

“Even though many Burmese children can speak Thai, the schools do not accept them,” said a Burmese man turning his head lef and right. He works for Raks Thai Foundation. “The schools ask for identification documents of children, but the children do not have enough.”

Sompong Srakaew said that Thai government policy allows all children regardless of their nationality, the right to an education, even if they do not have any documents.

“They can go to primary, secondary and high schools if they want,” he stressed. “But the problem is the schools have their own rules and regulations that are against the government policy.”

The schools especially ask for documents to identify the number on birth certificates and citizenship cards because they do not want to be responsible for educating migrant children, he said.

Sompong said that it also depends on agreements between secondary schools and children’s parents how much they will be able to pay for tuition and other school expenses. Parents can use their own work permit documents to help their children to school.

“If the children really want an education, we can help them to enter school,” Sompong stressed. “But if school refuses, we can discuss it in court.”

He said until now there are not any migrant children to graduate from secondary school because they just stay in Thailand a few years and go back to their countires. It is also hard for them to get an ID card if they do not stay long.

A Burmese woman, Ms. Theng (not her real name), 47, in Tambon Bangyapak, Samut Sakhon, was sitting on the wooden floor of her rental house covering her nose and mouth because of the bad smell. Her house is located on a polluted pond which is full of waste cans, plastic bottles and bags.

She said that she illegally came to work at a seafood factory in Thailand for ayear, but she left seven children back in Burma. She could send home at least 30,000 baht per year to support her children’s education. Two of them were in the first year of primary school while others were in secondary school.

“They will not have a chance to study if I take them here with me,” she said. “But I will not go back to Burma even though I really miss them because I may be arrested by officials along the Burmese-Thai border.”

Copyright 2009 IMMF.