By Olive Aseno
With rights, comes responsibilities. When you take a student to school only to learn that they burnt their dormitory and in extreme cases, razed the whole school down, the logical concern is that something is amiss.
Cases of primary and high school students turning to arson because their school administration failed to address their issues have been common in our Kenyan education system. Kairumandi Boys High School in Kirinyaga county is a recent example of such a case. 5 boys from that school were arraigned in court and were charged with arson.
From a human rights perspective, this example shows that on one hand, being in school is proof that the Right to Free and Compulsory Education has been granted to students by the Kenyan government. On the other hand, when students burn their own school down, then it reveals that responsibility on the side of the student has been forsaken. This example speaks to one of the key takeaways from our 5-day Community Liaison training—that with rights, comes responsibilities.
We trained 26 community liaisons from the urban informal settlements of Mathare, Mukuru kwa Njenga and Dandora. at the Nairobi Safari Club. The foundation of the training leaned on the basic knowledge of human rights.
We delved into the Right to Education & Children’s Rights and further trained them on relevant thematic areas like: the concept of community engagement versus public participation; available complaint mechanisms to communities and how communities can engage with the Kenyan Parliament. The three thematic topics speak directly to avenues that community liaisons can use to ensure the #RightToEducation is achieved at the grassroots level.
In the realization of the Right to Education and any other right granted in our constitution, it is imperative for communities to know and of appreciate the principles of community engagement; engage with their parliament; identify human rights violations, and further channel them to the right authorities through a structured complaints mechanism.
Community engagement, by definition, is the process of working through and with groups of people from the same community. The community is the originator of the engagement and community members are invited to talk about their issues and contribute meaningfully to bring about solutions to those issues. This came about because of the need to distinguish community engagement from public participation. Through it’s community engagement model, EACHRights believes in empowering the communities to understand and demand their rights as a strategy towards addressing human rights violations.
As for Public participation, in regard to rights and duties, ‘‘it is a fundamental constitutional principle provided to enhance public understanding, awareness, and knowledge of the workings of The Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice and its operations. It encompasses a range of public involvement from simple information as well as delegating decisions to the public.’’
In public participation, the public is invited to give opinions and share views on a particular thematic discussion that originated independently from the government or a stakeholder. The invitees (public) are not the originators of the discussion.
Additionally, in Public participation, a member of the public can challenge the actions undertaken from their contributions especially if their views are not considered during decision-making. This is because public participation is a constitutional right and there is an act of parliament that speaks to it—the public participation bill 2018.
Speaking about public participation, Mercy Kagimbi mentioned that, after the training, she is better equipped to track notices and calls for public participation so that she can contribute to meaningful discussions on thematic issues that affect her like education.
In her opening remarks, Dr.Judith Oloo, EACHRights CEO, said that child neglect is rampant in informal settlements and therefore EACHRights expects the liaisons to apply the knowledge they will acquire on human rights to better address the issues that are standing in the way of education in the communities they come from. She added that the training will empower liaisons to identify and channel issues that pertain to violation of human rights to relevant authorities for effective and informed action.
To better contextualize the fact that rights have responsibilities, we trained the liaisons on the characteristics of rights. One characteristic is that rights are universal. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child endorses the right to education. The right to education is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This shows that rights are applicable everywhere and affect all of us. Beyond our African borders, the United Nations which is made up of 193 nations, holds the same positive views on the right to education.
Another characteristic of rights is that they are indivisible. This means that rights are interconnected. The Right to free and compulsory education is interrelated to the Right to a safe and non-violent environment for children. One right cannot exist without the support of the other. It is counter-intuitive to expect a child to access free and compulsory education when the school environment is such that teachers breach the right to a safe and non-violent environment by beating the students and disregarding the ban on corporal punishment.
The third characteristic is that rights are not absolute. They are limited and they come with responsibilities. This arson by students as indicated at the beginning of this article reveals how responsibilities can be neglected. Another example of this characteristic is that the #RightToEducation comes with parental responsibility. Kenya’s Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) points in the right direction when it comes to promoting responsibility in the realization of these rights. The CBC has instituted and incorporated Guidelines on Parental Empowerment & Engagement, 2019 (policy on parental engagement). When community liaisons are empowered with knowledge on education as a right and they are equipped with information on the characteristics, then they are better placed to sensitize parents from urban informal settlements on their responsibilities.
Lastly, rights are subject to derogation. This means that even though the right to free and compulsory education is a guarantee, in the context of COVID, the government can withdraw these rights in the best interest of the state, citizens and in this context, children so that we flatten the curve of the corona virus.
Most recently, this example can be best described in the context of COVID-19 and the disruption that had to be caused in the Kenyan education space. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Kenyan government directed that schools be closed and all students to go home. The government further imposed lockdowns that apply to everyone including children. While children have a right to free and compulsory education and schools are largely seen to complement this right, for the sake of protecting the right to life of pupils, teachers and other educational stakeholders, such stringent measures that appeal to derogation as in that context, the right to a free and compulsory education had to be withdrawn.
Margaret Wawira, the programme manager for the Education Support Programme (ESP) noted that out of the 26 community liaisons that were trained, six of them who had attended the 5-day training will be selected from a competitive and transparent interview process. The six will enable our agenda of ensuring that community members from urban informal settlements are better equipped with knowledge on human rights and empowered to demand for the right to education for the children in these areas. The liaisons will articulate and identify human rights issues to their community members while they build the capacity of their communities in channeling human rights violations to relevant authorities and holding the government accountable.
Noah Dulo Adipo, Executive Director Youth Leadership Movement, added that the community liaison training enlightened him on the constitution, especially with respect to human rights in the context of the right to education. “Based on the knowledge I received from this training, I am better equipped on how to engage my community and better identify their needs, gather information and evidence on violations they may face, and further assist them in the course of justice,’’ he said.
The essence of the training was to see the empowered community liaisons charged on identifying the challenges in education in urban informal settlements and have them reflect on how to solve issues through the human rights lens or background.
The liaisons had a view of our NIELIMISHE FILM which paints a picture on the status of access to the right to education for children in the urban informal settlements. Through the film, the community liaisons were able to identify how they can plug into the realization of education and what role they can play to improve the status of education in their localities.