Although guaranteed by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child since its ratification by more than 192 states thirty-one years ago, 258 million children are still denied the right to education. What a shame as we celebrate World Children’s Day today.
Currently, in addition to the 258 million children being denied an education, a further 24 million children are at risk of dropping out of school due to poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
So who are these children that are deprived of school, despite the fact that 195 countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees, among other things, the right of all to quality education (articles 27 and 28)? Where do they live? What does their daily life look like? Why are they still cut off from primary and secondary education?
Unfortunately, there is not a single answer, otherwise, a solution would be easier to reach. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty is one of the key factors keeping children out of school, hindering families from being able to afford school fees and school materials.
Other factors too such as geographical remoteness, ethnicity, gender, language, and disability also create further obstacles. Belonging to a minority ignored by the majority of the population, speaking a language other than the official language of instruction, having a disability for which teachers and schools are not prepared, living in a country that is hampered by conflict or insecurity, or simply being born a girl can cost some children their right to education.
Poverty as an obstacle
In India, 15 million children drop out of school to follow in the footsteps of their families. Take, for example, the case of Sushil, a young Indian boy of just ten years old. His parents had to leave their native village to find insecure work on the outskirts of Delhi. Urbanisation here, as in many Indian megacities, is vast and there is no shortage of construction jobs but, typically such work comes with the condition of accepting to live in unsafe and unsanitary housing.
Such housing usually goes hand-in-hand without access to adequate food, hygiene, health care, and education for workers’ children and often also leads to increased exposure to violence and insecurity in order to earn a very low wage for a lot of hours worked.
Sadly, nearly 100 million parents in India, like those of Sushil’s, are forced to take their children out of school in order to continue earning a meagre wage. In fact, an estimated 15 million children are living on construction sites, busy looking after each other in the absence of their parents, gradually sinking into theft or delinquency, or pushed into child labour to earn a little extra money.
Despite India’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and despite the adoption of a law that makes education compulsory for all children aged 6 to 14, the right to education remains just a pipe dream for the country’s most vulnerable children. India is far from the only country not to ensure these commitments and obligations for all. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 million children do not go to school. In Cambodia, almost 200,000 primary school-age children were reported out of school in 2019 by UNESCO.
Around the world, children with disabilities pay a relatively heavy price. It is estimated that one in two is out of school in low- and middle-income countries. Of course, removing all the obstacles to allow these children to go to school is a real challenge.
For a poor child with a disability, living far from school, and belonging to an ethnic minority group is not one but multiple issues that must be resolved to open the school doors them. Possible solutions could include abolishing tuition fees, providing school uniforms and materials, finding a reliable and safe means of transport, offering education in their native language or at least bilingual to enable them to follow lessons, and welcoming them in an inclusive school with adapted materials and qualified teachers.
Many of these solutions are part of existing initiatives that Aide et Action is developing as part of our commitment to ensure access to quality education for all.
In India, for example, we are building reception and learning centres on construction sites where parents work in order to encourage them to send their children to school and to avoid forced labour. It was mainly thanks to one of these centres that Suhil was able to return with his parents to their native village at the end of the school year and resume his studies as if he had not missed anything from the school year.
In Cambodia, Aide et Action is leading the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children, in partnership with Educate a Child, a global programme of the Education Above All Foundation, with the aim of enrolling over 116,000 out of school children in school over the next four years.
Our commitment is not only aimed at guaranteeing the right to quality education. We are also trying 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 has thus enabled children on construction sites to receive one hot meal a day, to have access to care and hygiene advice, and for parents to benefit from parenting advice in order to strengthen protection of their children … We are also joining forces with other civil society organizations and child protection stakeholders to change public policies and demand the implementation of children’s rights as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Today on World Children’s Day, and every day, we must continue to demand education for all.