Parents’ Dilemma by Nameera Saleem, India

Girls are sometimes deprived the right to education as parents in a patriarchal society tend to give boys priority over girls when deciding who can go to school. FILE/UN PHOTO/Evan SchneiderVeeraiah had never, in their 15 years of married life, argued with his wife Laxmi as vehemently as he had today. The two together had made it wonderfully through the thick and thin of life. He worked at the factory: he got no wages but a tin-shack which was their . Laxmi did household work which fetched them their twice-a-day meals of leftovers and old clothes too. Despite their needs being very fundamental to human existence, they seldom had enough. Yet they thought the sahib gracious. After all, he had not shunned them to the outskirts of the village where their community lived in make shift shelters baring the vagaries of both nature and men.

They lived in contentment, until one day Veeraiah learnt about the free education scheme for children, especially girls, of school age. Their eldest daughter Chanda was now ten years old and earning, babysitting the sahib's foreign returned grandchildren. Veeraiah had learnt that education could wash away the stigma of low birth. He felt change was knocking at their door too. But even before he could fully appreciate the beauty of his dream, he was knocked down by the harsh winds of reality.

The sahib wasn't pleased about sending Chanda to school. "What would books give her?" He had asked. "They could give her a better life", Veeraiah had argued. The sahib was offended at his adamancy and called him ungrateful. If he was foolish enough to lose Chanda's job, he could find a new place to live. For the first time in his life Veeraiah felt the sahib was just like the others: he felt a swell of rage rise within him. But Laxmi thought differently. Much to Veeraiah's annoyance she felt the sahib was right. "Books couldn't pay for food or clothes or medicines. Then, where will you find her an educated husband. Look at Ramayyah's daughter; she's been to school for a year and now doesn't want to work like her sisters.. What good are books if they keep you from work" she scorned. "Besides, we cannot displease the sahib. If Chanda has her books, we'll have no . Why add to our problems?" she added, mellowing down at the sight of Veeraiah obvious anguish.

The argument continued well into the night and by dawn, the more practical of them had won.

The next morning Chanda was seen playing, not with books but babies in the sahib's garden.

Yet again a child was denied her right to education as a consequence of living in poverty. It's not just the right to education that was denied to Chanda: many poor like her cannot demand the very basic right to live a life of dignity, free of torture, cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the face of economic disparity exploitation of the weak becomes a norm and denial of human rights a trend. Therefore, despite elementary education being made free and compulsory, it remains inaccessible to the poor. Those of us who understand the value of education as a human right and the need to establish it in a humane society must work toward this end at the grassroots level.

Excerpted from Nameera Saleem, Age 16, India, Highly Commended, Writing Contest for International Human Rights Day 2006, Cyberschoolbus, United Nations