Published: 15th February 2018
Kids shamed for not paying fees: Why we are failing the kids who need support the most
What's the point of making children feel humiliated for their parents' inability to pay money? Does it force parents to pay faster or does it merely scar a child to the point where they commit suicide
It was the summer of 2016. Carrying her backpack and lunch bag, 16-year-old Reshma Sharma hurried to her classroom as the school bell rang and settled on her seat. As the teacher walked in, she sat in trepidation, anxious about when she would be called out for not paying her school fees.
The due date had been just a few days ago. She had requested more time - three days. But it had been three days, and she still didn't have the money. She looked at all the other students. She knew that she was about to be embarrassed in front of everyone. 'What would they think of her?'
And then she heard her name being called, followed by that of a few other defaulters. They were asked to leave the classroom and led to the stage in the centre of the school campus. Reshma hung her head in shame as she walked. "I was so humiliated as I sat down on the stage. I couldn't lift my head up, because I knew everyone could see me, and everyone knew why I was there. I felt a pang of guilt and shame and I didn't know why. It was not like I did something wrong. So why was I made to feel this way?" says Reshma, who ended up sitting there for the next few weeks.
Every night, she would go home, and try to be brave in front of her parents, for she knew they had done everything they could to provide for her. Her father, a painter, and her mother, a peon in the school had moved from Mumbai to Chennai in the hope of providing better education for her. It had been a big step for them, but that was the sacrifice they were ready to make to see their daughter have a better life than they did.
It broke her heart to tell them what had happened at school. But she had to. The next day her parents were called to meet the Principal. As they entered the office, they weren't even asked to take a seat. Standing there like criminals, they were questioned, rebuked and shamed for not being able to provide for their child. They tried to subdue their tears as the allegations kept coming. What could they say or do to defend themselves? They pleaded for more time, but the authorities would have none of it. Reshma was told she won't be admitted to the next grade. Their world came crashing down.
To cut a long story short, Reshma then took up a job at a departmental store and managed to pay her fees within a few months, and managed to get into another school. But the humiliation she suffered is something she'll never forget.
Reshma's story isn't the first. Nor will it be the last. Children being punished because their parents were behind in paying the fees isn't something we've never heard of. Just a few days ago, we heard the harrowing tale of 14-year-old Sai Deepthi who resorted to ending her life because she couldn't take the humiliating remarks that came her way, as she couldn't pay the fees on time.
According to the law, the contract of paying the school fee is between the school authority and the parent. Not with the child. So why should a 'child' be allowed to go through such ill-treatment? These are children who are at an age where they are just beginning to build their self-esteem. No one wants to be looked down on by their peers. No one wants to be made to feel low about themselves. A public humiliation such as this could greatly affect the mental state of young children, as we've seen in Sai's case.
That begs us to question, shouldn't parents choose a school they can afford to send their kids to? Research suggests that parents, even from low-income backgrounds are increasingly sending their kids to private schools. Be it the desire to study English or the lack of quality education in government schools, or the competitiveness of the current generation, parents seem to opt for a private education any day, even if they have to struggle for it. But what happens when they can't afford it? If private schools don't have the money to run the school, how can they provide the facilities and services they have promised? Isn't that why parents have chosen the school in the first place? The law states that schools have the right to detain a child.
However, in a majority of cases, the fee defaulters usually request just a few days' or weeks' time. Yes, the parents have the responsibility to pay the fees on time, and it is something that should be taken seriously. But what happens when they've run of options? What happens when they've put their entire lives on hold, worked day and night, scramble for money and still not be able to provide on time? Shouldn't mercy prevail over justice? While the school has every right legally to detain them, shouldn't a child's life matter more, especially if it's just a matter of a few weeks?
In any case, it is not the child's fault and no child should ever have to go through what Reshma or Sai Deepthi did. If they do, we are not teaching our children the right things in life.