Right to education: a chimera for the most vulnerable children

Photo credit: Vanessa Martin

Although guaranteed by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child since it was ratified by more than 192 States thirty-one years ago, the right to education is still denied to more than 258 million of the world's most vulnerable children. This is a shame as we celebrate the 31st Children's Rights Day tomorrow.

258 million children do not have access to education today. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional 24 million children are at risk of being out of school due to poverty. However, 195 countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees, among other things, the right to quality education for all (articles 27 and 28). But who are these children who have no schooling? Where do they live? What is their daily life like? Why are they still cut off from primary and secondary education? 

Children denied the right to education

Unfortunately, there is no single answer, otherwise the solution would be obvious and easy to apply. These children, generally among the poorest in the world, live mainly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. On their way to education, they face a combination of obstacles and disadvantages. Their families are not only too poor to pay school fees or too far from the school, these children are also from a minority ignored by the rest of the population, they speak a language other than the official language of instruction, they have a disability for which teachers and schools are not prepared, they live in countries plagued by conflict or insecurity, or they were born girls, and carry, in addition to all these barriers, the weight of their gender and obligations (marriages, families..) that have been arbitrarily imposed on them. 

In India, 15 million children out of school to follow their families

Take for example the case of Sushil, a young Indian boy of only ten years old. His parents had to leave their native village to find odd jobs on the outskirts of Delhi. Urbanisation, as in all Indian megacities, is very strong there and there is no shortage of jobs in the construction sector. On condition, of course, that you accept to live in insalubrious housing, without food, without hygiene, without access to health care, without school for your children and to expose yourself to violence and insecurity to earn only a few coins a day for dozens of hours of work... These conditions are inhuman, of course, but when there is no other solution to survive and save your family, you don't really have a "choice".  

States that do not meet their commitments

There are nearly 100 million parents in India, like Sushil's, who are forced to take their children out of school in order to continue earning a little money. Nearly 15 million children are said to live on construction sites, looking after each other in the absence of their parents, gradually falling into theft or delinquency, or being forced to work to earn a little extra money. Despite India's ratification of the CRC, despite the adoption of a law making education compulsory for every child between the ages of 6 and 14, the right to education remains a chimera for the most vulnerable children. India is far from being the only state to fail to meet these commitments and obligations. In sub-Saharan Africa, 12 million children are not in school. In France, there are nearly 100,000. 

Disability: 1 major obstacle!

Children with disabilities pay a relatively high price worldwide. It is estimated that one in two children in low- and middle-income countries is not in school. Of course, removing all the barriers to enable these children to go to school is a real challenge. For a child who is poor, has a disability, lives far from school and is part of an ethnic minority, not one but four issues need to be addressed at the same time to get them into school: Removing school fees, providing school uniforms and materials, finding a safe and reliable means of transportation, offering education in the child's native language or bilingual a minina to enable him/her to follow the lessons, and welcoming him/her in an inclusive school with adapted materials and qualified teachers... These are all initiatives that Aide et Action is developing within the framework of its projects with the aim of accompanying all children on their way to school. 

But then what to do? 

In India, for example, our association builds reception and learning centres on the construction sites where parents work in order to encourage them to send their children to school and avoid any forced labour. Thanks to one of these centres, Suhil was able to return with his parents to his native village at the end of the school year and resume his studies as if he had not missed anything during the school year. But Aide et Action's commitment does not only aim at guaranteeing the right to quality education. We also try to make political decision-makers recognize their responsibilities towards young people in difficulty and to obtain their support so that children see all their rights respected. Our project in India, for example, has enabled children on construction sites to receive a hot meal a day, access to health care and hygiene advice, and parents to receive parenting advice to strengthen child protection... We also work with other civil society organisations and child protection actors to bring about changes in public policy and to demand the implementation of children's rights as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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