By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE Ministry of Education is preparing to petition the government concerning the impact of the country's immigration policy on access to education, according to education director Lionel Sands, who acknowledged the current policy contravened international law.
Mr Sands told The Tribune the ministry was aware there are children who have been unable to register for school since the immigration policy was first introduced in November 2014.
The United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a human rights treaty that outlines the rights of all children under the age 18, inclusive of the right to education. Once ratified, countries are bound to uphold the convention by international law.
"I understand that," he said, "and I know that, but I have this policy from the government, that is a policy and I'm bound by law to follow the policy of the government. We're waiting to see whether it will be maintained by this new administration or if they will amend it because there are still a number of students in our country who have not availed themselves to our system of education because of these roadblocks their parents are facing."
Mr Sands added: "I understand the pain and I feel the pain but I can't break the law. I've already spoken to the minister of education and we're submitting something for him to take to Cabinet. We recognise the problem."
The Bahamas became a signatory to the CRC on October 30, 1990; however, the treaty was signed with a reservation over the provisions of Article 2.
UNCRC Article 2 mandates that all children are free from discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status, whatever they think or say, or family background.
The reservation read: "The government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas upon signing the convention reserves the right not to apply the provisions of Article 2 of the said convention insofar as those provisions relate to the conferment of citizenship upon a child having regard to the provisions of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas."
Article 28 outlines the right to education and specifies that primary education should be free.
The November 2014 policy shift sent shockwaves through the international community, with groups like Amnesty International and a Florida lawmaker raising grave concerns with its impact on vulnerable migrant communities.
The policy mandates that every person living in The Bahamas has a passport of their nationality with proof to legally reside in this country, among other restrictions, like the requirement for every foreign person enrolled in schools, including children born in The Bahamas to immigrants, to have a student permit.
Florida lawmaker Daphne Campbell, who was born in Haiti, wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Perry Christie about the new requirement for non-Bahamian children in February 2015.
In her letter, she called the sweeping changes "deeply disturbing", adding the policy was "not only discriminatory" but violates the United Nations' declaration and The Bahamas' own Education Act.
Yesterday, Mr Sands said: "The challenge we have is, there is this policy from 2014, there is this ruling from the Immigration Department, and it's asking us to ensure that every child in our school is legally registered and those who are actually here are here legally.
"What we've done is we've created some form of documentation to capture that type of information. The documentation says any child born to a Bahamian mother or father, or who is the child of an immigrant who has the right to work here, can be registered to attend school in The Bahamas.
"Any child whose parent does not have the legal right to be here, who came in illegally, will have to now go to the Ministry of Immigration and get a student visa. The student visa would allow the child to be registered to go to school here.
"We're holding fast to that simply because it's a requirement. We understand there may be students who don't have legal rights to be here as a consequence of that. We also understand there are some children who were born here to parents who are illegally in this country, that's a problem."
Mr Sands added: "What we're trying to do is ensure the parents rectify the problem so we can get them into schools as quickly as possible because they're here. I know there is an international obligation that all children must be in school but the law is the law and we have to abide by it, that is the challenge we are faced with.
"We are making some representation to the current government to see if there will be some change. I can't go beyond what the policy is requiring of me to do today. If the policy changes then we can make adjustments," Mr Sands said.