EDUCATION MATTERS

Kerala’s proposal to make vaccinations mandatory for admission to Class 1 faces opposition

They say the state government has no authority to tamper with the Right To Education Act, which makes education a fundamental right for every child.

A proposal by the Kerala government to make it mandatory for children to provide evidence of their vaccinations to gain admission to Class 1 has drawn criticism from activists, who say the move is a violation of the Right to Education Act, 2009.

The proposal in the Kerala government’s draft medical policy, which was released on February 20, is expected to come into effect from the new academic year that starts in June. The government is expected to finalise the policy and publish it next week.

While releasing the draft policy in Thiruvananthapuram, Health Minister KK Shylaja said making a vaccination certificate mandatory for school admissions would help the state achieve total immunisation.

The state has seen a number of anti-vaccination campaigns in recent months.

However, education and rights activists have raised doubts over the proposal’s constitutional validity and are planning to move court. They say it violates the Right to Education Act, which made education a fundamental right for every child. They say that the state government has no authority to tamper with this Act.

KP Aravindan, convener of the 17-member panel of doctors and public health experts that drafted the policy, defended the proposal. “It will not violate the Right to Education Act,” he said. “The government will not deny education to any children.”

He added: “We included the proposal as anti-vaccination campaigners have been capitalising on the ignorance of common people.”

The policy

The 40-page draft health policy lays stress on improving the public healthcare system to deliver affordable and accessible healthcare to the public and bring down the costs of medical treatment. It highlighted the importance of vaccination drives citing the re-emergence of diphtheria in different parts of the state last year.

The policy does not say what will happen to children seeking admission who do not have the required vaccination certificates.

Kerala topped the Niti Ayog Aayog’s first health index published earlier this month. This index measures various health indicators like neonatal mortality rates, under-five mortality rates, immunisation rates and institutional deliveries across states.

However, the government is concerned about the growing resistance to vaccination in the state. Despite an extensive campaign by the health department, only 88.8% students were administered the Measles-Rubella vaccine in the latest vaccination drive last October. The state had set the target at 100% and even extended the campaign deadline three times to achieve this target. But many parents refused to co-operate with public health staff after anti-vaccination campaigners spread misinformation about the side-effects of vaccines on various social media platforms. In November, in Malappuram district, a group of parents attacked a public health nurse who was vaccinating children at a primary school.

‘Against RTE’

Several education activists spoke out against the proposal, with some saying there were better ways to ensure total immunisation coverage.

Ambarish Rai, national convener of the Right to Education Forum, said nobody had the right to tamper with the Right to Education Act. “It stipulates that no certificate is needed for admission to Class 1,” he said. “Children need not produce even the age certificate. If the Kerala government is planning to deny admission for students without vaccination certificate, it is a violation of fundamental rights.”

Educationist V Vasanthi Devi wondered why Kerala, the highest-ranked state in health care, opted for such a retrograde proposal. “There are many ways to ensure 100% vaccination,” she said. “The best way is to admit the children in school and then educate parents on the need to go for vaccination.”

‘Violation of privacy’

Anti-vaccination campaigners have also stepped in, saying that they will move court if the government went ahead with its proposal.

Rights activist PA Pouran, an anti-vaccination campaigner, said the proposal not only violated the Right to Education Act, but also an individual’s right to privacy. “A child’s health is the concern of the parents and the state government is trying to curtail the right and infringe upon their privacy,” said Pouran.

He said his organisation, Janakeeya Arogya Vedi, would move court if the proposal made it to the final health policy. “What will be the fate of students who have not taken vaccination in Kerala?” he asked. “Will the government deny them admission?”

‘Let the debate begin’

Meanwhile, Aravindan said that several countries make vaccination mandatory for school admission to ensure all children are immunised. “Many states in the US have made vaccination mandatory for school admission,” he said. “They provide exemptions if parents provide valid reasons for not administering vaccines.”

He said anti-vaccination campaigners can move court against the proposals. “Let there be a debate,” he said. “It will educate people about the importance of vaccination.”

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