In the middle of a blog post on human trafficking, it's claimed:

Another way to be involved with this issue is to help prevent boys and girls from being trafficked in the first place. Many of the trafficked children come from and through the Golden Triangle area of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. One of the at-risk groups are the Akha tribe, non-Thai residents who live in villages throughout the mountains of this region. The Akha children who finish the fifth-grade in local schools can only go on to middle-school if they have the mandatory school uniforms. Since the families generally do not have the funds to purchase the uniforms, the children, out of school and with nothing to do, are susceptible to being lured by traffickers with the promise of work in the ciy.

with text afterwards mentioning a charity that's raising funds to purchase uniforms.

Do people end up missing out on school for want of a uniform?

I'm somewhat suspicious of the source - I suspect that a charity could be creating an overly-simplified explanation for what's going wrong so that they can raise funds.

The claim being made is even more extraordinary considering what can happen to people who aren't allowed to attend school.

  • So is what is your one question. You have 3 here and I am not sure which one to answer. They are 3 different questions about tangential topics. – Chad Mar 26 '12 at 13:35
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    Why don't we stick with the question in the title? Tying school and human trafficking together makes it a whole separate question. – DJClayworth Mar 26 '12 at 15:37
  • @DJClayworth Thanks for your comment. I've changed it so that it hopefully matches the title, with the additional questions being turned into "why I'm skeptical". How is it now? – Andrew Grimm Mar 27 '12 at 1:39
  • Just as an addition, I am South African, and public schools in South Africa require a scool uniform for attendance (Where as school fees exist, but are generally not enforced) – major-mann Mar 28 '12 at 10:55

Let's address the basic question first: Are there people who can't afford a school uniform?

Yes. A big fraction of the world's population live on $1 per day. At that level almost all of your income goes on food and shelter; anything but the most basic of clothing is unaffordable. See this this and this.

Does lack of school uniform prevent some kids from attending school? Let's confine ourselves to Thailand for the sake of simplification.

This study by the KU Leuven (formerly Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) is a very detailed study of the impediments to education in Thailand. Lack of school uniform is certainly cited as one of the significant factors.

The extension of the right to basic education up to the end of upper secondary school has been accompanied by substantial efforts by the government to ensure free education. [...] Yet, important problems appear to persist:[...] − school uniforms still can constitute a tumbling stone for low-income families;

Direct costs include school fees and costs of uniforms, school books, school equipment, transport and meals (Watkins, 1999). Transportation and the uniform are often the most expensive elements.

The study notes that free uniforms are sometimes provided, but that there are families that fall between the cracks.

The claim is made by many, many charities involved with education in Thailand. See here here here and here as examples. Technically all these charities might benefit from this claim, but it's very unlikely that they would all choose to make up the same lie when they could also ask for donations for other things like fees, meals or equipment. They also list school uniforms as only one of the inhibiting factors: other include transport and school equipment, which also agrees with the KU Leuven study. Blogs from people in the Thai education sector (here and here) also back up the claim. Here is an extract from parliamentary records that says the same thing for Kenya.

Some of the sites state that sometimes the reason for non-attendance is that Thai parents are ashamed to send their kids to school without the uniform. You could argue that they aren't technically prevented from going, but in the end the result is the same - the kids aren't in school because of uniform issues.

Summary: Yes, kids in Thailand and elsewhere sometimes don't attend school because they can't afford uniforms.

The relation to human trafficking deserves a separate question.

  • The charity links are tricky: are they providing independent supporting evidence, or merely repeating the claim? Also, I note that school uniforms is listed there as only one of the basket of items required to send a child to school (which seems more realistic than the original claim). It's a shame the Kenya link is for a different nation in a different continent, because it is far stronger. – Oddthinking Mar 26 '12 at 16:58
  • Found a much better source. – DJClayworth Mar 26 '12 at 17:18
  • Perfect, and "tumbling stone" is so much more poetic than "stumbling block". – Oddthinking Mar 26 '12 at 23:15
  • Just an anecdote, but when I was in grammar school we had to wear a uniform, and the reason given was it was cheaper and more egalitarian than having to buy clothes to "keep up with the Joneses". – Mike Dunlavey Mar 27 '12 at 16:53
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    The shame factor is a good point. Something similar could happen anywhere. Imagine a 10 year old boy in the USA who, due to his family's poverty, has nothing to wear to school except his older sister's old dresses. It is likely that he would be too embarrassed to go to school and would likely "skip" even though very few US schools actually ban boys in dresses. – Robert Columbia Nov 3 '16 at 13:58

This story mentions that in the Central African Republic (then briefly called the Central African Empire), schoolchildren held a protest over the requirement to buy very expensive school uniforms, that were manufactured in a facility owned by the Emperor's wife. Fifty students who refused, or were unable, to buy the uniforms were executed.

A friend was teaching there at the time and he said other students who could not afford the uniform simply melted away, and while that seems reasonable if the alternative were execution, I can't find it cited.

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