Parents concerns over child allowance reveal high number of school dropouts this year

Just over one hundred senior students of Niue High School will be sitting external NCEA exams this month

Parents’ concerns over the cessation of their children’s child allowance without notice has revealed an increase in the number of students dropping out of school this year.

Several parents reached out to BCN News last week, saying that they were disappointed that the government had stopped paying the child allowance for their children who are not yet 18 years old.

It’s understood that many parents don’t realize that if their children drops out of school, then the child will no longer qualify for the child allowance, according to the eligibility criteria in the Child Allowance Act.

While investigating the parent’s concerns, BCN News discovered that several students of Niue High School have dropped out of school this year.

BCN News contacted Niue High School Deputy Principal Moira Jackson who confirmed that five students have dropped out this year, mainly from Year 11 or students who are 16 years old.

Jackson said that last year, they had one student drop out but this year that number has increased to five. In a statement to BCN News, Jackson said that the students’ parents consented to their child leaving school and for various reasons. Jackson said that “Most of these students were struggling academically and a few had family/home issues”.

The parents have also learned that the Niue Public Service Commission does not young people under the age of 18 so some of the dropout students are still at home looking for a job in the private sector.

In the current Education law, students aged 14 with their parents consent can leave school, a risk highlighted by the UN’s Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2013.

Minister of Social Services which includes the Department of Education and the Justices Department responsible for welfare payments, Hon. Sonya Talagi said that she had asked to meet with the parents of the students concerned to explain the situation with regards to the child allowance but the decisions were already made.

“I had asked for the families concerned to be contacted to discuss all options to keep their child in school, as well as ensure that a full understanding of the consequences of such a decision were considered and understood.  One of these is, if parents do opt for their children to leave school early, they will no longer be eligible for child allowances”, said Minister Talagi.

The risk of the number of students dropping out of school was raised by the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2013 when Niue presented its first report on the convention.

The Committee noted that without labour laws and with the current Education Act which permits a child with parental consent to leave school this could see students leaving school early to find employment.

While the Education department and Niue High School may have a policy that students must stay in school until they are 16 years old, the law is still paramount if the child wishes to leave and with their parent’s consent, they can leave school at 14 years old.

Minister Sonya Talagi agrees that this is the current law but it is something the Department of Education is working on.

“I understand that the Department of Education has already reviewed the act and included public consultations.  The Department is currently drafting a policy paper to enable the proposed amendments, including the lifting the leaving age to 16 years.  We would hope to enact these changes as soon as possible, but are mindful of the process to ensure these changes are done properly and effectively.”

The challenge facing the Ministry of Social Services now is how to keep students at school. Minister Talagi told BCN News that one of the key priorities for her Ministry is to improve public awareness on these significant matters.

“The decision for children to leave school early is a multi-dimensional issue, and we are exploring vocational training alternatives that will take time to develop, fund and implement.  As a significant issue, we are working to improve information and awareness of this matter for the general public on this moving forward,” said Minister Sonya Talagi.

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