Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

600 bedoon children denied admission to local schools – Kids without birth certificates crammed in makeshift classrooms

schoolKUWAIT: Sitting in the front row of the classroom, 8-year-old Yousef diligently copies the English alphabet off the whiteboard, his tongue stuck out in concentration. He raises his hands and asks if he can recite them; his teacher nods. He starts: A D C D E H - his teacher stops and corrects him. He giggles, looking around at his classmates in embarrassment before he starts over again.

Yousef is among a group of bedoon children who were refused registration at school this year. He currently studies at a makeshift school set up by volunteers at the Jahra offices of the Kuwait Teachers Association. The head of the initiative, Ahmed Al-Khulaifi, explained the recent dilemma which affects over 600 bedoon kids. "Before the beginning of the school year, the Central Agency for Illegal Residents (CAIR), which was formed and tasked to resolve the issue of bedoons in 2006, gave instructions to the Ministry of Education banning the registration of any student who does not have a birth certificate," he said.

That is the rub since bedoons are not given birth certificates. They are given a birth slip at the hospital - a paper stating that the mother delivered a healthy child. In normal scenarios, this slip is submitted together with the marriage certificate and other legal documents in order to obtain a birth certificate for the child. For bedoon parents, who have few or no legal documents, obtaining a birth certificate is impossible.

"Before this recent decision by the CAIR, private schools registered students with a birth slip if they provided a memo from the CAIR granting them permission to register. This year, CAIR decided to stop that procedure, which left us with over 600 first-graders who cannot register in any school across Kuwait," Khulaifi explained. CAIR issued the decision in 2012 to stop schools from accepting the birth slips from hospitals but it was not implemented until this year.

No one knows the exact number of Kuwaiti bedoons, but UN refugee agency UNHCR has estimated there are between 93,000 and 120,000, while some NGOs put the figure as high as 140,000, according to a US State Department report in March.

An employee at Mashael Al Jahra, a girls-only private school, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that a circular sent by the Ministry of Education before the beginning of the school year instructed them to refuse registering new students without a birth certificate. "From a humane perspective, it saddens me to see such a decision and to be forced to turn away girls at the school. However, we must comply with the regulations and instructions of the ministry." Officials at the Ministry of Education and CAIR did not return calls for comment.

After realizing the grave consequences of having hundreds of children with no education, Khulaifi called for volunteers to help. He has a team of 10 people on board, and was granted two classrooms by the Kuwait Teachers Association at their Jahra branch. With the help of the volunteers, the group was able to set up a makeshift school. "This is not a permanent solution - we realize that. We are not an official entity that can give these children education certificates. We only have two classrooms and can accommodate a small number. We also don't have the resources to provide these students with food, stationery and other equipment. We are not a school, we are only a group of activists and volunteers who don't want these children to be deprived of their right to education, so we are doing what we can."

Khulaifi stressed that the initiative has no political affiliations, noting that the group attempted to speak with lawmakers and officials in the government but failed to garner any reaction. "This is a reaction to the unfair decision of the CAIR, and it is purely humanitarian. We refused to work with many activists who have political affiliations, simply because we don't want to be tainted by the impurity of politics - we want these kids to enjoy the basic right of education, the basic dreams of childhood," he said.

Human rights activist Nawaf Al-Hendal lauded the initiative of Khulaifi, saying: "If activists in Kuwait could, I'm sure that they would help fund the education of these children without letting them jump through fire hoops like what CAIR and the Ministry of Education are used to doing. But education is a basic human right, especially in a country like Kuwait, which recently - and very ironically - won worldwide recognition for being exemplary in its human rights efforts. We believe that the government is obligated to provide these kids with the basic right of education."

Khadeeja Hassan, a 25 year old volunteer said she never imagined volunteering as a teacher. "I don't have teaching experience, but as a bedoon myself, I want these children to have a better future. I know they can make one for themselves with a better education. I don't want them to grow up to be fruit sellers on the side of the street just because they don't have the right papers and documents."

By Hussain Mahmoud Hajji

Pin It
This article was published on 14/10/2014