Thailand has a long history of hosting migrants and refugees from neighboring countries as they flee conflict and extreme poverty. Over the past decade alone, hundreds of thousands of migrant children have accompanied their parents – leaving their economic situation in Myanmar and other neighboring countries. These workers currently fill key jobs in the agriculture, industrial and services industries, contributing to the Thai economy. Contrary to the common belief that migrant workers are here temporarily, many stay for extended periods of time and bring their children with them. These families reside in Thailand while contributing to the fabric that makes up Thai society.
In Thailand, we are campaigning to ensure that refugee children, children on the move and children affected by conflict have access to quality education and learning opportunities.
Education for All (EFA) Policy
The children of migrant workers in Thailand are entitled to an education in Thailand since the 1999 adoption of “Education for All (EFA) policy and the 2005 cabinet’s resolution. Thai law stipulates that “All children, regardless of their nationalities or legal status, have the right to 15 years of free basic education.” These policies allow the Thai government, international NGOs and aid agencies, together with local community based organizations, to invest significant resources to provide education for migrant children.
All children should get to go to school
Despite the existing EFA policy and cabinet’s resolution, many children in Thailand still do not have the chance to attend school. Children who do not have Thai citizenship or birth records, including hill tribe children and children of migrant workers, often have difficulty getting accepted into Thai schools. Although Thailand is a signatory of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child and the state formally provides education to all children born in Thailand, there are several barriers that make it difficult for non-Thai children to get into schools.
These children and their parents are often not aware that their children have the right to go to school. Some parents, especially foreign laborers, try to avoid any formal dealings with Thai officials for fear of trouble with residency and work eligibility status. When parents do try to register their children in schools, sometimes local schools refuse them. Although legally they must accept the student regardless of their documents, in reality, without proper documentation the schools cannot claim the student budget per head which is needed to fund education costs such as teachers, materials, and transport. Finally, even when all these difficulties are overcome, these children often lack the Thai language skills needed to study and succeed in Thai schools.
The result is that hundreds of thousands of children in Thailand have limited access to education. Lack of education deprives these children of opportunities not only to improve their own lives, their communities, and even the whole country in the future, but also to integrate more strongly into Thai society. A total of 75,967 Myanmar, Laosian, and Cambodian migrant children enrolled in the Thai education system from kindergarten to higher secondary education in 2015 (Office of Basic Education Commission, 2015), and yet there are estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000 migrant children in Thailand, meaning the vast majority are out of school.
Save the Children is determined to bring a change to this. We have been working in Thailand for more than 30 years to support all children – migrant children, stateless children, hill-tribe children, or ethnic minority children – to obtain an education. Save the Children works with our partner, Help Without Frontiers to overcome all obstacles in accessing and obtaining education for all children.
Collaboration between Thai authorities and stakeholders turn children’s dream to reality
While the law promotes Thai schools to accept all children regardless of their legal status, schools also need funding to ensure a good quality education for every student. Save the Children would like to highlight an excellent example of the work of the Mae Sot Education Services Area Office with the Mae Sot Ministry of Interior to provide the 13-digit pink card to migrant children so that the non–OBEC schools that enroll the children to study will be able to obtain student budget per head. This will help vulnerable children and their families to get the education that could change their lives, their communities, and the country. This is a good example of how NGOs and governmental departments can work together to ensure properly financed education for migrant children.