Age bar fixed to avert school sex: Delhi govt to HC
Having an “adult” in a class of adolescents will lead to teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and other “sexual and social problems”, the Delhi government has said in its defence of fixing an upper age limit for school admissions.
Under the new rules for Delhi government-run schools, which came into effect this year, a child older than four years will not be given admission in nursery. Similarly, a seven-year-old old will have to be in Class 2 and a 17-year-old in Class 12.
The parents of 10 students denied seats have challenged the decision in the Delhi high court, which last year struck down a government circular fixing an age cap for nursery admission in private schools.
In an affidavit to the court filed on July 29, the Aam Aadmi Party government said, “If an adult is in the same class as an adolescent, it will create complex behavioural problems, which may lead to teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, aggressive bullying and violent outburst.”
The document was prepared by a committee comprising Directorate of Education officials and principals of government, private and aided schools. It said the problems stated were from the members’ “personal experience”.
Educationist Janaki Rajan called the government’s decision a violation of the right to education law, which mandates the right to free and compulsory education for children between six and 14 years.
“We are not talking about a 30-year-old but about an 18-year-old who is already enrolled in school. He/she has the right to a school education. This is equality of opportunity and everyone has the right to get a degree. Such reasons show the government’s intent to not work for poor children. Teenage pregnancy does not necessarily require the presence of an adult,” she said.
But the affidavit said, “A child above the age of 18 is an adult and in a regular school, it is not feasible to have an adult studying with students younger than him. If a complaint arises, the adult can be prosecuted but a child cannot. If any incident occurs, it causes trauma to the younger ones.”
The government also feels having diverse age groups in the same class will impact studies.
Denying the rules went against the RTE, an education department official said, “Under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the government launches admission drives from time to time to help children get into age-appropriate class. We do not want children to be bullied and harassed in school.”
The affidavit cited provisions from the 2009 law that say there should not be a wide age gap between children in the same class.
“The section is being misread,” said Khagesh Jha, the parents’ lawyer. “The court has explained that age limit is not only chronological order of age but includes other factors.”
Government counsel Anuj Aggarwal countered: “There are provisions where students who are older can be sent for specialised training, after which, as per their age, they are sent to appropriate classes. This is a rational order, practised in several places, so that education can be imparted in a proper manner to all students. Psychologists also suggest children of varying age groups should not be in the same class.”
Calls to education minister Manish Sisodia and the higher education secretary went unanswered.