October 14, 2005

V. Access to Education

F.L., a displaced woman working in a community kitchen in El Pozn, on the outskirts of Cartagena, described the problems she and her neighbors experience when they try to enroll their children in the public schools."The first problem is space:There usually isn't any room.Second is the matriculation fee-you have to pay to enroll your child.Third, the schools require identification," she told Human Rights Watch.[151]

In another interview, sixteen-year-old Carmela E. identified the cost of schooling as her chief concern."The most difficult thing about studying here [in Bogot] is that you have to pay," she said."Here for the ninth grade, the matriculation fee is 160,000 pesos [U.S.$64] plus school supplies."She estimated that her school supplies bring her costs for the year up to 250,000 pesos (U.S.$100).On top of that amount, she must purchase the required school uniform and black shoes."I try to watch the costs to make things easier for my father.My brother is also in school.It is difficult to buy things."[152]

As these interviews indicate, displaced children face significant hurdles in continuing their education.In some cases, these barriers are direct consequences of their status as displaced persons, as when they are required to produce forms of identification they no longer possess.In other instances, they are harmed by the school's failure to adhere to legal obligations intended to protect displaced persons.For example, there may simply be no space available, despite legal provisions that require state schools to enroll displaced children who arrive in their communities.Finally, displaced children face the same barriers in access to education that all children in their communities face, and their particularly vulnerable situation means that these hurdles will be especially difficult to surmount.The expenses associated with attending school-the fees for matriculation, extra charges for examinations, "voluntary" monthly contributions, and the cost of uniforms, books, and school supplies-are one such barrier, often preventing displaced children from attending classes.In addition, economic pressures on displaced families often mean that older children must leave school in order to care for younger siblings or to contribute to the family income.

Displaced children face these hurdles after their education has already been interrupted by the need to flee their communities.As a result of the combination of these factors, "[t]hey lose an important part of their schooling, one that is sometimes never recovered," a report prepared by the ombudsman's office notes.[153]

Considering the challenges displaced children face, it is not surprising that they are far more likely than children in the general population not to attend school.When the ombudsman's office analyzed Ministry of Education data for 2002, for example, it found that only 10,700 of the 122,200 displaced children of school age in twenty-one receiving communities were actually matriculated.That is, only 8.8 percent of the displaced children in those communities were enrolled in school.The enrollment rate for all children of school age in those communities was 92.7 percent.[154]Similarly, in its survey of displaced populations in six departments, the IOM found that 52 percent of displaced children between the ages of twelve and eighteen were not in school.In comparison, only 25 percent of youths of the same age range in Colombia's population as a whole were out of school, according to National Administrative Statistics Department (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadstica) data.[155]

When Human Rights Watch asked officials with the Social Solidarity Network about their strategies to eliminate school fees and other expenses associated with attending school, they referred us to a program known as Families in Action (Familias en Accin).Modeled after a Mexican initiative and financed by World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank loans, the program provides cash incentives for families to keep their children in school.While this effort is a laudable one that should be continued, it does not specifically target displaced children, and none of the families we met were benefiting from the program.

The Lack of Space for Displaced Children

The Ministry of Education and the Social Solidarity Network have issued a circular that instructs schools to enroll displaced children.In practice, however, children are often unable to attend school for one of several related reasons.The ombudsman's office notes:

On the one hand, especially in small municipalities with high budget deficits and without any capacity to increase school coverage, the education secretariats do not have places available for the displaced population of school age from other communities to enter the education system.On the other hand, especially in the large cities, the secretariats of education do not always have places in educational centers close to where the applicant family is located.Distance from the educational center to the home as well as the lack of sufficient family income to guarantee children's transport to school are sufficient reasons why, even if a place is available, boys and girls in situations of displacement do not enter the educational system.[156]

Those who are in a grade lower than usual for their age face an additional challenge."Many times the schools do not admit them," Angela Borges said, telling us that school authorities prefer to allocate limited spaces to children who are in the target age range for their grade.[157]Colombia's Constitutional Court clarified in 2002 that age is not a permissible factor to deny admission to school.[158]

School Fees

The Colombian constitution guarantees youths a free education but provides that that right is "without prejudice to charges for the cost of academic rights for those who can afford them."[159]As a result of this provision, Colombian authorities have generally taken the position that some fees are permissible.In 1999, for example, the city of Bogot issued a circular that exempted displaced children from school fees for the first year only.[160]

Sandra Gonzlez, a teacher in Usme, explained her school's fees this way:"In Colombia, the constitution gives students the right to a free education.That's why we only charge them a minimal amount, 10,000 to 15,000 pesos [U.S.$4 to 6] for the whole year.That's the matriculation fee for grades one through nine."When we asked her how school fees of 10,000 pesos constituted a free education, she replied, "It's a minimal amount.That's the cost for the paperwork, all the photocopies and everything."[161]

Students at other schools may pay more, sometimes considerably more:

  • Isabel R., a thirteen-year-old in the seventh grade, told us that she paid 100,000 pesos (U.S.$40) in matriculation fees at her school in Cazuc.[162]Marisa L., a ten-year-old who also lives in Cazuc, pays the same amount.[163]
  • Eduardo E. reported that he pays 75,000 pesos (U.S.$30) in school fees for his eighth-grade year.In addition, he told us that the school charged each student 10,000 pesos (U.S.$4) to cover the cost of water and 8,000 pesos (U.S.$3.20) for other administrative costs.[164]
  • Five of E.D.'s grandchildren are in primary school and one is in kindergarten in Cazuc."We pay 7,000 pesos [U.S.$2.80] for each one every month," more than U.S.$100 over the course of the year, she said.[165]
  • "For the younger ones, we pay 35,000 pesos [U.S.$14] for the year," said L.Z."The oldest is in high school, and for that we pay 35,000 pesos two times a year."[166]
  • Carolina Q., a twelve-year-old in the third grade, reported that she paid 30,000 pesos (U.S.$12) in matriculation fees at her school in Cazuc.[167]
  • A.R. reported that her sister's school fees for the first grade were 28,000 pesos (U.S.$11).[168]
  • Juan Luis R., a thirteen-year-old fifth grader in Usme, told us that he paid a matriculation fee of 20,000 pesos (U.S.$8).[169]
  • Edmond P. paid 12,000 pesos (U.S.$4.80) to the last public school he attended in Cartagena.[170]

In addition to the matriculation fee or monthly quota, many schools charge students other administrative fees."There are costs for record keeping-25,000 pesos [U.S.$10] or so, depending on the school," Angela Borges said, telling us that both primary and secondary schools charge administrative fees for "paperwork" (papelera) or "school records" (la libreta).[171]

In fact, the ombudsman's office notes that the costs associated with schooling represent the factor appearing most frequently in statistical analyses of the reasons why displaced children leave school.[172]Similarly, a Profamilia survey of displaced women found that over 26 percent of those between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four who had left school did so because of inability to pay.[173]

The Cost of Uniforms and Books

Uniforms are a near-universal requirement for students in Colombia.At the school in Cazuca that L.Z.'s grandchildren attend, for example, students are required to have two uniforms, one ordinary uniform and another for physical education."Two of them [the grandchildren] have the regular uniforms," she said.We asked her what happened if students didn't have both uniforms."The school doesn't admit them," she replied."This has happened to my granddaughters.The school director talked to me about my granddaughter about fifteen days ago because she didn't have the physical education uniform. . . .The director told me I had a few weeks to buy the uniform.But it isn't possible-we have to buy the books, the backpacks, the uniforms."Reviewing the purchases for each of her grandchildren, she reported, "The physical education uniform costs 30,000 pesos [U.S.$12].The other one is 15,000 pesos [U.S.$6], used.Each book is 32,000 pesos [U.S.$12.80].The backpack is 17,000 pesos [U.S.$6.80].I still haven't bought the dictionary for her."[174]

The cost of uniforms and books is such that they represent a significant outlay for displaced families.Where authorities have made efforts to guarantee access to education by removing school fees, the requirement that students wear uniforms may undercut those efforts.In Soacha, for example, according to Angela Borges, head of the Attention and Orientation Unit there, students do not pay school fees."They pay neither matriculation fees nor monthly quotas [pensiones]," she said, but she noted that schools maintained the requirement that students wear uniforms. "We have fought with school officials on this, urging them not to require the uniform," she told Human Rights Watch."They say they have to maintain discipline."She estimated that a school uniform costs 42,000 pesos (U.S.$16.80)."Many displaced families have four or five children in school and have an income of less than 100,000 pesos (U.S.$40) per month," she said, noting that the minimum wage in Colombia is 350,000 pesos (U.S.$140) per month.[175]

L.Z.'s account was not the only time we heard that students were threatened with expulsion if they did not wear uniforms.Thirteen-year-old Enrique P. told a researcher from the Fundacin Dos Mundos that while the network pays for his school fees, "It falls to me to pay for the uniform and the books," he said.When the researcher asked him what would happen if he didn't have a uniform or the books, he replied, "If I don't have the books or the uniform they will turn me away from school."[176]

Colombia is by no means the only country that requires school uniforms; such requirements are common throughout Latin America.The need to maintain school discipline is frequently cited as the rationale for maintaining the requirement.[177]In Colombia, in line with the government's policy of not making a distinction between displaced persons and other persons in "vulnerable situations," we heard an additional justification.Sandra Gonzlez, the Usme teacher, told Human Rights Watch, "Here the policy is not to make an exception of the displaced (no desplazar a los desplazados).With the uniform, we tell everybody to wear the uniform because we don't want to identify particular students as displaced.If they didn't have to wear the uniform that everybody else is required to have, that would be setting them apart (desplazar al desplazado)."The teacher told us that needy students' needs were taken care of by private charity.In the case of school uniforms, for example, she told us that parents and teachers organized a sale of used clothing at low prices.[178]

Government Efforts to Eliminate Barriers to Education

Human Rights Watch asked officials with the Social Solidarity Network about their strategies to eliminate school fees and other expenses associated with attending school.In response, they told us that displaced families were eligible to receive benefits under a general program known as Families in Action (Familias en Accin), modeled after Mexico's Progresa initiative and financed by World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank loans.The program's educational component provides cash incentives for families to keep their children in school.In 2005, families enrolled in the program received sums of 28,000 to 56,000 pesos every two months, ten months each year, for each child enrolled in school, Adriana Len told us.The program also has a nutritional component.[179]

The Families in Action program is a laudable effort that appears to have had a positive impact.A March 2005 evaluation of the program's educational subsidies found that they increased enrollment among fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds by 5.5 percent in both urban and rural areas.[180]

Nevertheless, Families in Action does not specifically target displaced children; it is an initiative for low-income families in general.More significantly, it is limited in scope.In 2005, approximately 650 of Colombia's 1,098 municipalities were eligible to participate in the program.[181]None of the families we met in 2004 or 2005 were benefiting from the program.

The Right to Education

The right to education is proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and guaranteed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Protocol of San Salvador.Primary education must be "compulsory and available free to all."Secondary education, including vocational education, must be "available and accessible to every child," with the progressive introduction of free secondary education."[182]In addition, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees each child the right to "such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor," a provision that the Human Rights Committee has interpreted to include education sufficient to enable each child to develop his or her capacities and enjoy civil and political rights.[183]

The right to education is a right of progressive implementation, meaning that implementation may take place over time, subject to limits on available resources.A state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights agrees "to take steps . . . to the maximum of its available resources" to the full realization of the right to education.[184]Nevertheless, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights observes:

The realization of the right to education over time, that is "progressively," should not be interpreted as depriving States parties' obligations of all meaningful content.Progressive realization means that States parties have a specific and continuing obligation 'to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible' towards the full realization of [the right to education].[185]

Although the right to education is a right of progressive implementation, the prohibition on discrimination is not.The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated:

The prohibition against discrimination enshrined in article 2 (2) of the [International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] is subject to neither progressive realization nor the availability of resources; it applies fully and immediately to all aspects of education and encompasses all internationally prohibited grounds of discrimination.[186]

Thus, regardless of its resources, the state must provide education "on the basis of equal opportunity," "without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status."[187]In addition, the guarantees of equality before the law and the equal protection of law prevent a government from arbitrarily making distinctions among classes of persons in promulgating and enforcing its laws.A state will violate the prohibition on discrimination in education both with direct action, such as introducing or failing to repeal discriminatory laws, as well as when it fails to take measures "which address de facto educational discrimination."[188]States must ensure that their domestic legal systems provide "appropriate means of redress, or remedies, . . . to any aggrieved individual or groups," including judicial remedies.[189]

[151] Human Rights Watch interview with F.L., Cartagena de Indias, August 10, 2004.

[152] Human Rights Watch interview with Carmela E., Soacha, Cundinamarca, July 30, 2004.

[153] Defensora del Pueblo, El desplazamiento forzado en Colombia, p. 49.

[154] See Defensora del Pueblo, Evaluacin de la poltica pblica en procesos de restablecimiento de la poblacin desplazada desde un enfoque de derechos humanos (Santaf de Bogot:Defensora del Pueblo, 2003), p. 23 (analyzing data from the Direccin de Apoyo de la Gestin Educativa Territorial, Ministerio de Educacin Nacional).Children of school age are those between the ages of five and seventeen.The twenty-one communities are Santa Marta, Sincelejo, Quibd, Ccuta, Villavincencio, Ibagu, Carmen de Bolvar, Valledupar, Pasto, Popayn, Montera, Florencia, Buenaventura, Soledad, Neiva, Turbo, Mocoa, Soacha, Tumaco, San Pablo, and Fundacin.

[155] Organizacin Internacional para las Migraciones, Diagnstico, p. 24.

[156] Ibid.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with Angela Borges, July 30, 2004.

[158] See Sentencia T-215 of 2002 (Col. Const. Ct. March 21, 2002).

[159] Constitucin Poltica de Colombia, art. 67 ("sin perjuicio del cobro de derechos acadmicos a quienes puedan sufragarlos").

[160] See Circular 020 of June 1999 (Secretara de Educacin del Distrito and Alcalda Mayor de Bogot), cited in Defensora del Pueblo, Evaluacin de la poltica pblica, p. 19.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra Gonzlez, Usme, Santaf de Bogot, August 12, 2004.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with Isabel R., Altos de Cazuc, Cundinamarca, August 3, 2004.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with Marisa L., Altos de Cazuc, Cundinamarca, August 3, 2004.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview with Eduardo E., Soacha, Cundinamarca, July 30, 2004.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with E.D., Altos de Cazuc, Cundinamarca, July 30, 2004.

[166] Human Rights Watch interview with L.Z., Altos de Cazuc, Cundinamarca, July 30, 2004.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with Carolina Q., Altos de Cazuc, Cundinamarca, August 3, 2004.

[168] Human Rights Watch interview with A.R., Ciudad Bolvar, Santaf de Bogot, September 21, 2005.

[169] Human Rights Watch interview with Juan Luis R., Usme, Santaf de Bogot, August 12, 2004.

[170] Human Rights Watch interview with Edmond P., Cartagena de Indias, August 9, 2004.

[171] Human Rights Watch interview with Angela Borges, July 30, 2004.

[172] See Defensora del Pueblo, Evaluacin de la poltica pblica, p. 26.

[173] Ojeda and Murad, Salud sexual y reproductiva en zonas marginales, p. 33.In addition, 26.3 percent of girls and women between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four who had never attended school responded that they had not gone because the school was too far away or because there was no school in their community.Ibid.

[174] Human Rights Watch interview with L.Z., Altos de Cazuc, Cundinamarca, July 30, 2004.

[175] Human Rights Watch interview with Angela Borges, July 30, 2004.

[176] Fundacin Dos Mundos interview with Enrique P., Barrancabermeja, Santander, August 2004.

[177] See, for example, Human Rights Watch, No Rest:Abuses Against Child Domestics in El Salvador (New York:Human Rights Watch, 2004), p. 24 (citing view that uniforms help reduce gang violence).

[178] Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra Gonzlez, August 12, 2004.

[179] Human Rights Watch interview with Adriana Len, September 21, 2005.See also The World Bank Group, "Colombia:Offering an Escape from Poverty," August 29, 2005, http://web.worldbank.org (viewed October 5, 2005).

[180] See Orazio Attanasio, Emla Fitzsimons, and Ana Gmez, "The Impact of a Conditional Education Subsidy on School Enrolment in Colombia" (London:Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2005), p. 9.

[181] See Agencia Presidencial para la Accin Social y la Cooperacin Internacional, "Familias en Accin:Requisitos de elegibilidad de los municipios," http://www.acci.gov.co/Programas/Familias_Accion/ Requisitos.htm (viewed October 5, 2005).See also Orazio Attanasio et al., "Baseline Report on the Evaluation of Familias en Accin" (London:Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2004), p. 5.

[182] The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides that primary education "shall be available to all" and that secondary education "shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means."International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13.Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes "the right of the child to education"; states parties undertake to make secondary education "available and accessible to every child."The Protocol of San Salvador contains similar provisions.See Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ("Protocol of San Salvador"), art. 13(3), adopted November 17, 1988, O.A.S.T.S. No. 69 (entered into force November 16, 1999).Colombia ratified the Protocol of San Salvador on October 22, 1997.

[183] See ICCPR, art. 24; Human Rights Committee, 35th sess., General Comment 17:Rights of the Child (Art. 24) (1989), 3, in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.7 (2004), p. 144.

[184] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 2(1).See also Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 28.

[185] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 13:The Right to Education, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/10 (1999), 44.

[186] Ibid., 31.See also Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 20th sess., General Comment 11, Plans of Action for Primary Education, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/4 (May 10, 1999), 10; Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 5th sess., General Comment 3:The Nature of States Parties' Obligations (1990), 2 (stating that the obligation to guarantee the exercise of rights in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights without discrimination is "of immediate effect"), in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.7 (2004), p. 15.

[187] Convention on the Rights of the Child, arts. 28(1), 2(1).

[188] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 13:The Right to Education, 59.

[189] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 19th sess., General Comment 9:The Domestic Application of the Covenant, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1998/24 (1998), 2, 9.See also Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 3: The Nature of States Parties Obligations, 5.

These documents and the provisions they interpret should be read together with the Convention against Discrimination in Education.Colombia has not ratified this instrument, but the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights looks to the Convention against Discrimination in Education to determine the content of the prohibition on discrimination as it relates to education.See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 13:The Right to Education, 31, 33, 34.The convention defines discrimination as "any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education and in particular . . . [o]f limiting any person or group of persons to education of an inferior standard."Convention against Discrimination in Education, art. 1, adopted December 14, 1960, 429 U.N.T.S. 93 (entered into force May 22, 1962).