On December 14, the Directorate of Education (DoE) announced guidelines for nursery admission for the 2013-14 academic year. For the first time, it stated that “orphans” be included “within the meaning of children belonging to disadvantaged groups”. The child welfare committees were authorised to provide these certificates to students who may apply to private, unaided schools and avail 25 per cent reservation of seats for economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups under the Right to Education Act.
The Delhi Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules makes clear that “orphan” means “a child who is without parents or willing and capable legal or natural guardian”.
According to Rajiv Kale, Director of the Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD), the legal interpretation of the rule would exclude children in orphanages or child care institutions since superintendents of these institutions become legal guardians of the children. This would mean that they cannot apply under the reserved category.
Officials at the department said orphan certificates will be provided only after verification of death certificates and completion of social investigation of the child. They said it had also been noticed that many among the lower income groups do not always acquire death certificates for their kin.
The department has no consolidated data on the number of such children in the state. Orphans, children from broken homes, neglected children or run-aways study at these child-care institutions or in municipal schools.
Advocate Khagesh Jha said going strictly by definition, only a child whose parents are dead, has no guardian in the family or in any institution, and one who can prove that his parents have passed away may be eligible for such a certificate. “Is it expected of a three-year-old to carry death certificates of his parents when he applies for nursery admission,” Jha asked.
Humra Khalid, Assistant Director of the Child Protection Unit, said though orphans are state’s responsibility, it is possible that many institutions taking care of such children “may not even be aware of such directions.”
“Who will pursue their case?” she said.
Amit Singla, Director, Department of Education, said though the DoE had no role in granting these certificates, “we have done wide media publicity of the order”.
Schools in the NCR have received no such application, either directly or through help desks.
Manika Sharma, principal of The Shri Ram School, Vasant Vihar, said: “Who’s there to guide these children? There is a stark lack of awareness and understanding of the issue.” She said proper understanding of this could have had orphanages queuing up outside private schools for admission.