Jul 05, 2013 News
The Ministry of Education has acknowledged that there are some inadequacies with the Kato Primary School’s school feeding programme, and announced that measures have been put in place to avoid the recurrence of the infamous log-fetching incident deemed “child labour” in various quarters.
In April, children from Kato Primary were photographed in uniform, during school hours, fetching logs for the school’s kitchen.
This newspaper published the photos and an article in early June. The Ministry of Education initially stated that the children were made to pose for the pictures and that the incident occurred almost one month prior to its publishing. It was also disputed that the children were made to trek for the distance indicated.
Subsequently, the Ministry sent personnel into Kato Village to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ‘child labour’ for a hot meal.
According to Minister Priya Manickchand, the Head Cook, who held that position for the past two years, indicated that that instance marked “only” the second time children were asked to “assist” with the fetching of wood for the school kitchen.
Manickchand said that the supply of firewood is the responsibility of the community. It was detailed that wood is cut by a villager who has a chainsaw and then transported to the kitchen by the community tractor. This supply of wood provided by the community is expected to last for an entire school term.
According to Manickchand, when the incident occurred, the community tractor was not fully functional, thus resulting in the village not meeting up to its obligation. The wood was already cut but required transportation to the school kitchen site.
Manickchand said that the school’s kitchen has a gas stove, but the gas cylinders were “lost” and so the stove is currently not in use. The kitchen also has a freezer which is not being used, as the solar panel system to provide electricity is not functional.
She said that the children were made to fetch the wood due to miscommunication among the District Education Officer, a cook and a teacher.
“The children, accompanied by a male teacher, as a result went for the firewood which was about a twenty-minute walk away from the school. Provision of firewood by the children as a prerequisite for receiving a meal is completely out of the question.”
Manickchand said yesterday that several steps have been put in place in order to make certain that the incident does not recur. She said that all four hinterland Regional Education Officers have been advised to communicate with schools in their respective regions that are on the Community-based school feeding programme to let them ensure that children are not engaged in any work-related activity associated with the provision of daily meals by the school kitchen.
The Kato Primary School has been advised to procure two gas cylinders, with gas, to make use of the stove in the institution’s kitchen. If necessary, a second gas stove with cylinders could be procured as the school reportedly has ‘savings’ of approximately $600,000.
All schools on the feeding programme will be required to complete and sign an adjusted proposal/contract form which will give current particulars of the programme at each school and will include commitments of the school and community, including prohibiting children from being involved in any feeding programme-related activities that may be interpreted as child abuse.
Further, the Minister disclosed that, during the August vacation, all schools will be engaged in a two-day refresher training workshop which will deal with all issues and activities associated with the feeding programme. Where possible, before the school year concludes in July, telephone contact will be made with schools to sensitize them about the non-involvement of children in the provision of meals by the school kitchen or any related activity such as the provision of firewood etc.
“To have children engaged in that type of activity during or after school hours is unacceptable and is to be discouraged. The Ministry will certainly use this experience to ensure that not only Kato Primary School, but all primary schools in the hinterland run the community-based feeding programme in strict accordance with the guidelines governing this programme,” the Minister said.
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