The UN Rights Council takes a big step for the treaty on free education

The United Nations’ pre-eminent human rights body, the Human Rights Council, today paved a new path for millions of children who have until now been blocked from education because of its costs.

The full council approved a suggestions advanced by Luxembourg, the Dominican Republic and Sierra Leone, and co-sponsored by 29 other states, to establish a working group of countries to consider and draft a new treaty expressly recognizes the right of every child to pre-primary education, free public pre-primary education and free public secondary education.

The most important international treaty on children’s rights, the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child, already recognizes the right to free and compulsory primary education. The proposed new treaty would build on that foundation and recognize that free primary education alone is insufficient to prepare children to thrive in today’s world.

During 2019, World Organization for Early Childhood Education and that Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education shared with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child their research conclude that the existing international human rights framework did not specify that the right to education should begin in early childhood, before primary school. In 2022, the UN’s foremost independent education expert, Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry, recommended that the right to pre-school education must be established in a new, legally binding treaty.

More than half a million global citizens signed one open letter from Malala Yousafzai and Vanessa Nakate, sent by the activist group Avaaz, for a new treaty. Various child rights workers and scholars expressed support for recognizing the right to free pre-primary and secondary education through a fourth optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Child activists from Child Rights Connect have also supported the initiative.

In another landmark move, the Human Rights Council today called for children to be given the opportunity to express their views on the content of the treaty and participate in the process. This will be the first time that children are consulted and given a voice in the drafting of a new international treaty.

The new working group – which all countries can join – will meet for the first time in 2025. They should act urgently to adopt a treaty because millions of children should not have to wait any longer before they are guaranteed their inherent right to free education, from pre-school to high school school.

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