Student activist group to propose student rights bill

The student activist group Bad Student, along with other partner organizations, is preparing to propose a students’ rights bill in a bid to guarantee the rights and protection of students in Thai schools.

High school students joining a protest for educational reform on 5 September 2020 at the Ministry of Education 

The bill, titled the “Human Rights of Students” bill, was released online on 8 January 2022, Children’s Day. A website was also launched for people to sign the petition proposing the bill to parliament.

Bam, a Bad Student member, said that the group decided to try proposing a bill because they have tried everything over the past year, from demonstrations and filing complaints with the Ministry of Education to making handbooks and writing about students whose rights are violated, but nothing seems to be working. The group then decided that they need new legislation to ensure the protection of students’ rights.

Bam said that they originally intended to draft a new National Education Bill, but found that such a bill is likely to be dismissed by parliament since it would be considered a reform bill. Other channels are also unlikely to be open to them, such as joining a parliament standing committee to amend the current National Education Act or the Child Protection Act. 

“There is no way that would let us put in children’s rights and seriously declare our rights, or to set rules for schools to deal with these issues seriously, so we decided to draft a new bill,” she said.

Bam said that even the Child Protection Act does not include the protection of students’ rights in school, as the Act mostly protects children from physical assault. However, it contains sections on student behaviour. Section 64 of the current Child Protection Act, issued in 2003, states that students must follow school regulations and Ministry of Education regulations, while Section 65 states that if students fail to follow regulations, they may be punished by the school administration, who may also notify their guardian “for additional admonition and teaching.”

Bam said that the group sees these sections as problematic since they are more about how students should behave and how they will be punished if they do not comply and less about protecting students. The Child Protection Act also does not mention children’s rights in aspects other than being protected from physical harm and being cared for by their guardians.

The students rights bill, on the other hand, states that students are entitled to fundamental human rights and respect, and that they have the right to freedom of expression and access to information, which are constitutional rights. Students also have the right to safety and any punishment delivered by school authorities must not violate their rights.

The bill also protects students’ mental health and requires the Ministry of Education to provide students with counsellors and social workers. Schools are also required to provide students with a safe environment which allows students to learn to their full capability and promotes their wellbeing, and to ensure students are given due process before they are punished for breaking school regulations.

Students tied white ribbons to their wrists and hair during the 5 September 2020 protest. During the 2020 - 2021 pro-democracy movement, the white ribbon has become a resistance symbol and a symbol of the education reform movement.

The right to adequate rest is also enshrined in the new student rights bill, which states that students are entitled to enough time for rest, recreation, and other hobbies, and that the school is responsible for regulating the number of school hours so that it does not infringe upon students’ private time.

Bam said this right is not included in legislation like the Child Protection Act and is not seen as a right by society. She said that the group has been inspired by education laws in countries such as Finland and Sweden, which state that students must have time for activities other than studying, while students in Thailand are spending most of their time studying, from school classes and tutoring to homework, and while the government has tried to reduce homework hours, it has not been effective.

The bill also places an emphasis on human rights education, and states that schools and universities must promote an understanding and awareness of human rights among students and staff, and must also have protocols to support those whose rights have been violated in the institution. Schools and universities must also ensure that regulations are in accordance with human rights principles and are only for the propose of the safety of students and staff. Students must also be able to participate in issuing regulations and other administrative tasks that affect them.

Bam said that the group intends that the human rights education process should be a two-way process in which students and staff learn why it is important and come to a mutual understanding. While students should learn what their rights are and how to protect themselves both at school and at home, teachers should also know when their actions violate students’ right and that they must avoid this. 

Bam said that student rights in Thailand have been violated for a long time. Many generations of students have faced harsh punishments, from beatings and running laps to being ordered to scratch their nails on a wall. Students also have their hair shaved by teachers for breaking hairstyle regulations. They also faced gender-based discrimination and sexual assault. Bam said that Bad Student has received over 5000 complaints of human rights violation in schools, and while older generations believe such violations to be acceptable, her generation no longer wants to live in such a society.

If young people know their rights, Bam said she expects the society to become more aware and refuse to let their rights be violated.

“If a teacher is going to shave someone’s head at school, they will know that, actually, everyone has the right to their own bodies and whether what the teacher does goes against what they have been taught. I want a lot of questions to be asked about this in society, so we can move past it,” she said. 

Bad Student organised a campaign for LGBTQ rights in schools on 18 June 2021 at the Ministry of Education (Photo by Chana La)

Bam notes that what they are asking is very basic, but Thai people still do not understand why they have to campaign for it. She said that people often say that they are “made by the cane” and disagree with their demands to end violations of human rights in schools.

“I think that the law must be debated at the same time as a campaign in terms of ideas. We have always been campaigning. This is the one time that we may be able to push it further and make it into something more concrete,” Bam said.

Under the current law, a bill may be proposed to parliament by civil society if it receives at least 10,000 signatures from Thai citizens over the age of 18, but Bam said that minors can also sign the online petition to show their support, as the group wanted them to be able to participate.

The group is relying on those who are over 18 and are allowed to propose laws to get the bill to parliament. “I hope that they will not pass on the authoritarian culture they have faced to the next generation,” Bam said.

The online petition has currently been signed by over 9000 people over 18, and almost 6,000 people younger than 18.

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