The future of a number of established nurseries in Qatar appears uncertain as authorities consider introducing a rule banning them from operating out of buildings that are more than 10 years old.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), which is in charge of governing all nurseries in Qatar, confirmed to Doha News that a “draft decision” on the matter is currently being studied.
If the rule does come into force, an official at the ministry’s family development department said that “nurseries would be given lead time to sort out their issues.”
It is not clear what has prompted this latest proposal by the ministry, or what the timelines would be if it does come into effect.
If implemented, a number of owners and managers of established childcare establishments told Doha News that they may be forced to close their doors for good.
One owner and manager of a well-known British curriculum nursery in Doha said that the costs involved in relocating to another building, if required, and ensuring it met the authorities’ stringent safety requirements would be prohibitive.
“It would, quite frankly, be the end of my nursery. I have spent in excess of QR800,000 converting the villa into a nursery as per all the Ministry and Civil Defense requirements.
There is absolutely no way to recoup that kind of money if we move from the current villa, which I am going into my ninth year of occupation in. It would be financially impossible to start again,” she said.
This latest proposal follows a string of new regulations introduced by MOLSA in recent years governing nurseries, following the long-awaited new nursery law (No. 1 of 2014) that was enacted in January last year.
Brought in to tighten regulations on nurseries following the Villaggio Mall fire in 2012, the law introduced a raft of measures including strict licensing rules for owners and managers.
That included the requirement for all nurseries to have a nutritionist, a nurse and a visiting doctor.
Meanwhile, during routine inspections by MOLSA officials last summer, some nurseries were told that children are no longer allowed to eat their lunch or snacks in their classroom, and that a dedicated lunch room should be built.
Other recent requests by the ministry include asking nurseries to install CCTV on their premises.
Amid the changes, MOLSA also told nurseries ahead of the new academic year in September 2014 that managers were not to increase fees to offset their costs.
At the time, a Ministry representative told Doha News that nurseries needed a “real and convincing reason” for raising tuition, such as an expensive curriculum. The cost of hiring a doctor or nutritionist would not being accepted as a reason, she added.
Nevertheless, some daycare managers said they planned to continue to increase tuition in a bid to cover the increasing overheads incurred by the new ministry rules.
The owner of another popular and established group of nurseries in Doha said that she would also be forced to shut one of her premises if the new rule governing the age of the premises were to come into effect.
“I would have to close. Finding another, suitable new location really is impossible,” she said.
However, she added that she supported the ministry’s focus on ensuring nursery buildings were safe and would be in favor of additional Civil Defense checks on premises, if necessary.
But she added that in some cases, older premises were more robustly constructed than newer buildings, with thicker walls and higher ceilings:
“One of our buildings is 15 years old, but it has just had new electrics installed, which have been signed off by Civil Defense. As long as the older buildings are properly looked after, it doesn’t mean they can’t meet safety standards,” she added.
Meanwhile, MOLSA appears to be relaxing a provision of the Nursery Law that prevented children older than four years from attending day care – at least some cases.
While ministry representatives had previously been strictly enforcing the rule, there have been a number of reported cases in which parents are being granted extensions for at least a term after the child’s fourth birthday.
One nursery manager told Doha News that two children had recently been granted an extension by the ministry until the end of the summer term, after their parents submitted in Arabic a letter formally asking for permission.
The manager said: “The parents were delighted. I was surprised at the decision, which I received in an email from the ministry, but also pleased. It’s good news.”