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KOCHI: The decision by the Kerala government to cut the annual scholarship amount for students with disabilities is a blow to parents struggling to provide their children with special needs. Given the pandemic restrictions that lead to behavioral problems in such children, activists criticized the move as apathetic
Smitha (name changed), 14, was diagnosed with autism at a young age. She was enrolled in a special school in Kochi, but after it closed following the Covid-19 outbreak, the teenager is now locked in her home. The closed environment has resulted in behavioral symptoms in Smitha, which has recently shown aggressiveness and violent outbursts. Neethu Vincent, Smitha’s mother, who worked in a dental clinic, had to leave her job to take care of her daughter because she could not afford a caretaker.
She is currently selling homemade snacks to a bakery to support her family. As the Kerala State Planning Department cuts annual educational grants for children with special needs, Neethu, a single parent, has been let down. “After my husband died of kidney failure 10 years ago, household responsibility fell on my shoulders. Since my child is autistic, it needs special treatment along with the therapy sessions.
ILLUS AMIT BANDRE
However, her entire routine was disrupted after the schools closed. The monthly school fee was 2,000 euros and I was able to manage it. But the cost went up after the class went online. In addition, one hour of therapy costs 350 euros. I don’t know how to look after my child, ”said Neethu.
She added that the Asha Kiranam program of the Social Justice Department (SJD) gave them a monthly allowance of 600 euros for the first two years. “After that I didn’t receive any more money.”
Neethus is not an isolated incident. Many parents of children with disabilities are very concerned after the state government’s decision to cut cash benefits for disabled children, citing the Covid 19 crisis. There are nearly 68,000 disabled students studying at around 288 special schools across the state.
Another parent, Indu Suresh, whose nine-year-old son has cerebral palsy, said: “According to Covid-19 restrictions, children under 10 are not allowed outside. Physical therapists visit homes to deliver therapy, but these sessions are unaffordable for many parents. Children with developmental problems also have minor vision problems. You need larger screens to attend class. Most parents, including me, are helpless. “
In the guidelines made available to the LSGD in 2017 in relation to the Allowance for Children with Disabilities, the department was instructed to provide an annual scholarship of 28,500 euros for each student, along with the travel allowance of 12,000 euros at a rate of 1,000 euros per month and an educational allowance includes assistance at 12,000.
Of the remaining amount, 1,500 were earmarked for books, 2,000 for uniform and 1,000 for travel expenses.
Mohammad Asheel, executive director of the Kerala Social Security Mission, said, “The data analyzed by the SJD officials revealed that nearly 429 local agencies had not earmarked the annual grant amount of 28,500, while fewer than five local agencies close to each other had designated 20,000 for the Purpose. A Coordination Committee meeting was convened last December and all local governments were instructed to keep the amount set. “
“However, when the pandemic broke out and schools were closed, local authorities questioned the need to include the annual scholarship for children with disabilities. After an examination, the finance department of the coordination committee decided to remove the travel allowance. The SJD intervened and it was decided not to cut the annual scholarship entirely, but to lower it to 16,500, ”Asheel said. According to Sheeba George, disability rights commissioner and director of the SJD, the issue has been raised with the local authorities and a decision will be taken after the local elections are over.
Disability rights activists intervene
A number of disability rights activists and organizations who have requested official intervention are waiting for answers. According to PB George, director of Parivar, an organization that works with disabled students and parents in the state, the government has failed to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
“According to the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) of 2016, disabled people must be educated and rehabilitated and discrimination must be avoided. The Local Self-Government Department (LSGD), which is usually empowered to distribute funds for welfare programs, has stopped releasing funds, ”said George. He added that they requested an explanation from the committee, which consists of a disability officer, but did not receive it
It is really unfortunate that when marginalized families needed more support due to the crisis, the government decided to cut benefits, which put them at risk
– Seema Lal, co-founder of TogetherWeCan, a Kochi-based parenting support group
The data analyzed by officials from the Ministry of Social Justice found that almost 429 local agencies had not earmarked the annual grant amount of L 28,500
– Mohammad Asheel, Executive Director of the Kerala Social Security Mission
68,000 students with disabilities
288 special schools in the state have not yet received a response.
A28,500 annual scholarship set by the state in 2017 for each student
A 16,500 reduced the annual scholarship amount according to the latest government decision
The annual scholarship announced in 2017 included a travel allowance of L 12,000 and an educational aid of L 12,000. Of the remaining amount, L 1,500 was earmarked for books, L 2,000 for uniforms and L 1,000 for tours