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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Emir signs into law stricter regulations for nurseries

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Details of Qatar’s long-awaited new nursery law were released yesterday after the legislation received final approval from the Emir.

Law No. 1 of 2014 – which passed through the Cabinet in October – has been in the works for years. But the regulations gained momentum in 2012, after 19 people (including 13 children) suffocated during a fire at Villaggio mall. The deceased had been trapped in an upstairs daycare there.

Many nursery owners and managers have been waiting to hear what the changes in the law, which specifies that nurseries “are directly responsible for the safety, comfort and security of the children under their care,” would entail. The legislation will be enforced by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Requirements

According to news media reports of the law, which has not yet been published online:

  • Nurseries must now only accept children below four years of age. Under the law, a child must attend a kindergarten as soon as they turn four.
  • All staff directly involved in the care of children must be female. In addition, each nursery must have a qualified female manager, a female supervisor, a female nurse and a female nutritionist. The law says the qualifications required for these staff “are to be decided by the minister.”
  • Other required staff, including a driver, cleaners, security staff and a visiting doctor, may be male.

The legislation also brings new licensing rules into effect. All nurseries, including those already in operation, will be required to apply for a new license within six months. Applicants must be over the age of 21, and have a clean criminal record.

Under the license conditions, nursery owners must leave a QR100,000 security deposit with the Social Affairs ministry when applying, which will be returned when the license is terminated, minus any fines for violations of the law.

Any nursery which operates without a valid licence will be fined up to QR100,000, and its owner could face a jail term of up to two years.

Although many nursery managers have already been given a head’s up about these regulations, some told Doha News today that the need to have a qualified nutritionist on staff came as a surprise.

Reaction

According to some nurseries, the ministry has already begun enforcing the rule that prohibits children over the age of four from attending, and this appears to be causing problems.

Speaking to Doha News, the manager of one popular nursery said that forcing children to leave on their fourth birthday was inconvenient for parents, confusing for the kids, and could also lead to the child being left out of education altogether for a period of time. The manager, who asked to remain anonymous, said:

“We admit children up to the age of three years, eleven months – so naturally, they will turn four at some point in the school year.

There are no places in Doha schools for these kids to move to. Spaces at kindergartens are nearly non-existent and international schools, where most of our children move to, are full with waiting lists.  We want to understand the logic of making a child leave nursery and sit at home waiting for a space in school the next year.”

Meanwhile, nursery managers have welcomed the inclusion in the law of a six-month grace period (with a possible extension if granted by the minister) for existing nurseries to adapt to the new regulations.

According to Manager Maeve Galvin:

“I am pleased to say that Apple Tree Nurseries have most of these ‘new’ rules already implemented. I think the issue to be praised is the fact that this information is available in writing and that the Ministry is giving a time-line for these issues to be achieved. I consider this most definitely a move in the right direction.”

The law also allows for the ranking of nurseries for the first time, and the Social Affairs ministry has announced that it will classify them based on the qualifications of its staff and the fees it charges.

To help enforce the law,  the ministry is setting up a separate department to deal with play schools, nurseries and crèches, the Peninsula reports.

Additionally, the rule requiring nurseries to only operate on one floor, which was introduced after the Villaggio fire, appears to remain in effect, despite its apparent absence from the new nursery law.

A nursery manager told us that this rule is enforced by Civil Defense, and not by the ministry.

Is your child in nursery in Qatar? Thoughts?

Note: Edited to add details of possible jail term for nursery owners operating without a license

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