HARARE – Hundreds of students across the country have been turned away from school for non-payment of fees despite government’s directive not to send learners away.
This comes after Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima discouraged schools from sending children away for non-payment of fees suggesting they should not be punished on behalf of their parents.
“We have said it over and over again that no child should be sent away for non-payment of fees. That is government policy. We don’t expect it to be happening. The matter of fees is between the school and the parent, not the child and under our Constitution every child has a right to go to school.
“We want to provide quality education that is accessible; therefore, no child should be left behind,” Mavima said.
As schools opened earlier this week, Nyamuzihwa High School in Mutoko and Baring Primary School in Mutare chased away school children for failure to produce receipts as proof of payment upon entry at the schools.
Justice for Children (JCT) expressed exasperation that a number of schools were chasing away students despite stated government policy.
“JCT urges schools to treat children under their care humanely. JCT has just received disturbing reports of a school locking out children leaving them with their school stuff in the rain,” the charity said in a statement.
JCT said the legal position is that if schools are owed, the one to go after is the parent and not the innocent and hapless child.
The organisation’s programmes manager John Mhlanga told the Daily News that as education is a right, government must make efforts to ensure that it is affordable to everyone.
“If we are to maintain our literacy level I am sure primary education should be catered for by government. In terms of the constitution, children have the right to basic education. To make it affordable it has to be free to ensure that it becomes compulsory. Every child whatever the level of income the family may have must be able to fulfil the right to education through attending school,” Mhlanga said.
Some of the children were allegedly sent home for debts as little as $7 on opening day.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) pointed out that the majority of those who fall victim to this practice are children from disadvantaged families and acquiring education can be the only way out of a life of poverty.
“Turning away children from the classroom undermines the principle of the best interest of a child, a standard prescribed and emphasised in the constitution of Zimbabwe, and in human rights instruments that Zimbabwe has voluntarily ratified,” ZLHR said.
Government last year resolved to start offering free basic education this year saying authorities will amend the Education Act when Parliament resumes sitting to align laws with section 27 of the Constitution.
Free basic education was stopped during the early 1990’s at the height of government’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) that witnessed massive reduction of social services.