On 20 July 2023, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Global Advocacy Group - an informal group of organisations working to advance ECCE rights - hosted a meeting with international experts to discuss the key components of early childhood care and education rights and the areas of ECCE that require a stronger footing in the international human rights framework.
The meeting brought together human rights and ECCE experts from around the globe with complementary perspectives and expertise to discuss challenges and ways forward for ECCE rights, particularly as regards areas of the international human rights framework that require further clarification.
The Global Advocacy Group, facilitated by RTE, includes UNESCO, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, the World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP), the Oxford Human Rights Hub (Oxford University), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), Education International (EI), and the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER). UNESCO, a member of the Global Advocacy Group and the leading organisation behind the session, has published a meeting report on the session summarising its main focus, discussions and conclusions. The report, which RTE collaborated in the drafting of, presents the main issues and considerations raised during the three-hour discussion, as well as additional inputs and contributions provided in a follow-up survey which was shared with participants.
Background to the session
ECCE begins at birth and provides the foundation for lifelong learning, playing a tremendous role in the development of both individuals and societies, and in the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. It is also proven to be an efficient factor to foster inclusion and equality, especially when access to ECCE is guaranteed for all. Through ECCE, children from disadvantaged, marginalised or vulnerable households and communities are better prepared to start school on an equal footing with their peers, leading to an overall improvement in educational achievement and enhancing social equity and cohesion. Yet while ECCE rights, and specifically the right to pre-primary education, are implicitly recognised in international human rights law and developed further in its interpretations, the specific components of what these rights entail, and specifically the right to education from birth, are yet to be explicitly enshrined in the international human rights normative framework.
Crucially, there are huge disparities in access to ECCE, both between and within countries and regions. Despite the global increase in children’s enrollment in pre-primary education one year before primary school, the proportion is still low in some regions, with inequalities are exacerbated by conflicts, economic crises, health emergencies (such as the COVID-19 pandemic), displacements, chronic marginalisation and gender stereotypes. Given the numerous challenges and disruptions faced by the ECCE sub-sector, and more broadly by the right to education, there is an imperative need to strengthen and further clarify the States’ obligations regarding the right to ECCE.
Key takeaways of the report and session:
An effective way for states to ensure equal access to all children is to legally guarantee free, compulsory and inclusive pre-primary education.
ECCE is a State responsibility and States should prioritize public ECCE services and regulate the services of non-state ECCE providers based on principles of equality and non-discrimination.
States must foster inclusive and non-discriminatory quality ECCE services for all children from birth to 8 years old, by ensuring early childhood interventions for all children and providing particular attention to the first years of a child’s life as well as vulnerable children, including migrants, refugees, children from indigenous and minority communities, rural children, children living in poverty, children subject to ethnic and racial discrimination, girls and children with disabilities.
Quality ECCE requires ensuring the professionalization and both pre-service and in-service training of ECCE personnel. The working conditions of ECCE personnel should be regulated by adapting the ILO Policy guidelines on the promotion of decent work for early childhood educational personnel to national contexts with equal wages, social security benefits, job description and other career perspectives. Inclusion and child rights must also be reflected in ECCE personnel recruitment and their training.
Parents and other caregivers (which include grandparents, relatives, members of the community) are the first educators to provide ECCE services. States should involve parents as equal partners in the decision -making process, while ensuring protections for children’s fundamental rights, and provide supports that facilitate parenting and child rearing.
Gender -sensitive approach is highly needed. The ECCE work is disproportionately feminized and deeply intertwined with unpaid care work. States should provide an adequate duration of paid leave to all parents, including those working in the informal sector, and
encourage men’s take -up of leave. States should provide measures that reduce the burden of parenthood solely on mothers and develop opportunities for parents to support each other.
The development of locally and culturally appropriate ECCE services, with the involvement of community members, is essential as it ensures that cultural perspectives and values are reflected and transmitted through ECCE, while reducing the risks of marginalization and discrimination against indigenous and minority groups.
States need to increase their investment in ECCE and improve the effectiveness of their budget spending, including by preparing detailed costed plans for ECCE provision.
Accountability and monitoring mechanisms should be strengthened with adequate data management systems. All domestic and international human rights mechanisms should be explored including optional protocol 3 of CRC to address gaps and barriers.
ECCE rights that are implicitly and explicitly guaranteed in different human rights treaties and conventions should be collated in the form of a guiding principles. Further strengthening the international legal framework to explicitly enshrine ECCE rights should also be explored.
The session and the report conclude by recognising that to address ECCE rights, multiple measures are required which include fostering inclusivity, guaranteeing free and compulsory pre-primary education and equipping educators and the ECCE personnel with adequate training. Finally, as the report suggests, ‘Governance structures must ensure a multi-sectoral and holistic approach to ECCE and consider the interdependence of human rights as well as gender equality considerations, in the elaboration of national ECCE frameworks’.
Read the full report report for further information on ECCE rights and legal frameworks, challenges and the role of states.