Parents’ Separation Shouldn’t Impact a Child’s Education: Karnataka HC
Schools and parents must coordinate to make sure a child’s education isn’t disrupted in cases where the parents are estranged, the Karnataka High Court ruled this month.
Justice Krishna S. Dixit was hearing a petition filed by a mother and her eight-year-old daughter, seeking the court to direct the Sorsfort International School in Bengaluru to issue her a medical certificate so she can shift schools. The school had earlier refused to issue a transfer certificate on the grounds that the child’s father had not given his consent to the transfer.
The court directed the school to issue a transfer certificate to “facilitate educational career progression of the child” within the next 10 days; failing which, they would not just incur a heavy fine, but could also be held in contempt of the court.
The father also claimed the decision to transfer a child should require the consent of both parents. However, the court noted, “This cannot be countenanced as a thumb rule.” Explaining why, the court said, “Child is as yet a minor and it is a female, admittedly it is in the exclusive [mother]. Ordinarily, law favours custody of minor daughters being with the mothers, needs no elaboration.”
Justice Dixit noted that “[i]n matters like this all agencies involved should coordinate and facilitate the [child’s education]… [as] is reflected in the provisions of Section 5 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 [RTE Act].” The objective of the legislation is “to ensure that each child in India receives quality elementary education irrespective of their economic or caste background.”
Yet, this is hardly the first time that RTE Act has featured in a court case between an estranged couple. Despite its existence, procedural burdens prevent its objective from being realized.
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In 2017, Veena* was able to secure admission for her son through the RTE Act, but schools refused to confirm the admission based on her documents alone. Meanwhile, the child’s father rebuffed her requests to provide more documents that were in his custody. “While the education minister recently made it clear that even divorced women can seek admission for their children under the RTE Act as long as they are eligible, most are unable to seek the benefits,” an article noted.
Perhaps, the impact of divorces on a child’s education then becomes yet another roadblock — in addition to financial and cultural constraints — for women to escape marriages that aren’t working out, especially when their husbands refuse to cooperate.
Moreover, hostile estrangement of parents is, in any case, can have an adverse impact on children’s education — even without the hassle of procuring their fathers’ documents, or as in the present case, consent. “The emotional turmoil that children face [can] results in helplessness, anger, confusion, sadness, guilt, and self-blame. They may fear that the divorce is their fault and a result of their behavior and the worry that their parents will stop loving them becomes one that feels very real and threatening,” Dishaa Desai, a psychologist from Mumbai, had written in The Indian Express. This can impact the child’s academic performance, research suggests. Further, divorces can also impact the parents’ socio-economic status — trickling down to adverse impacts on their children’s education.
While coping with their parents’ divorce can be emotionally difficult for children, growing up around parents’ who are in an unhappy marriage can be emotionally damaging too. Since divorces are bound to exist as long as marriages do, it is important to ensure that: first, parents and educational institutions find ways to cooperate to help children cope; and second, logistical challenges like the one posed by the school, in the present instance, don’t disrupt children’s education as a result of their parents’ separation, complicating the emotionally difficult process of separation too, along the way.
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As such, it is important that procedural hassles posed by schools don’t work to deprive children of education. In fact, past studies indicate that schools can, in fact, help make it easier for children to get through their parents’ separation.
This can be done through schools providing structured and predictable routines, encouraging them to open up about their feelings, keeping channels of communication open with their parents and updating them about their children’s emotional, social, and academic performance, and even “arranging a one-on-one time with a teacher aide to provide emotional support.”
But, perhaps, that’s a distant dream. At present, it is heartening that the Karnataka High Court, at least, highlighted the procedural roadblocks, and directed the parties to cooperate for the sake of their children’s education, if nothing else.
Hopefully, the precedent will mitigate the impact of estrangement on children.