On 2 November, the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) and partners held an online side event to discuss strengthening the legal frameworks around early childhood care and education (ECCE), with the overarching objective of ensuring universal access to inclusive and quality ECCE.
The session took as its point of departure the presentation of the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on early childhood care and education before the 77th session of the UN General Assembly. This report is a significant milestone in the protection of young children’s ECCE rights, and paves the way for long-term change and improvement to education systems, entrenched inequalities, and cohesive social development.
Jointly organised by RTE in collaboration with Portugal; Farida Shaheed, the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Education; UNESCO; the University of Oxford; OMEP; CLADE; and Human Rights Watch, the two principal objectives of the session were to discuss states' obligations emanating from the human right to education regarding the provision of ECCE, building on the rights of children in early childhood which are already recognised in several international legal instruments; and the effective implementation of the rights of young children with regards to ECCE by reinforcing and developing legal and policy frameworks at the country level.
Presentations by speakers focused on diverse dimensions of ECCE rights in response to their expertise, disciplines and national contexts. Eduardo Pinto da Silva, Head of the Human Rights Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Portugal, began the discussion highlighting that his nation's position on ECCE rights emanates from the right to education as enshrined in international covenants and treaties. He emphasised Portugal’s efforts to grant universal early childhood care and education to children in the nation, and then passed the floor to Silvia Almeida, Portuguese Coordinator of the European Child Guarantee, who discussed the ways in which the Portuguese Ministry for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security has worked to implement the European Child Guarantee, with the view to ensuring that all children have access to the fundamental rights of health and education. She noted that this is the first political instrument at European level which places children at the centre of the European Political agenda for the common agenda of the objective of breaking the intergenerational cycle of policy, and is central to Portugal's efforts and commitment to safeguarding access for children living in poverty, including through the recent implementation of free and universal access to kindergartens for all children up to one year of age, a measure which will be progressively expanded up to three years of age by 2024.
Following this lead, Rajakumari Michalesamy, RTE’s ECCE Programme Manager, discussed RTE’s legal analysis into the content of UN Special Rapportuer’s reports between 1999 and 2021. She explored the different dimensions of ECCE referred to both in thematic and in-country visit reports, including examples of best practice from in-country reports and policy recommendations.
Professor Sandra Fredman, Professor of Law at University of Oxford, introduced a recently published academic article 'Recognizing Early Childhood Education as a Human Right in International Law', emphasising why a human rights approach is fundamental to ECCE. She explored the different pathways for strengthening ECCE rights in international law, highlighting the benefits and challenges of each potential route forward.
Rolla Moumné, Right to Education Programme Specialist at UNESCO, emphasised the potential of quality ECCE to equip children with skills to learn throughout life, and the power it has to enable the most disadvantaged children to perform better throughout their school careers. She referenced a 2021 UNESCO study on the right pre primary education to note the significant benefits of state implementation of free, pre-primary education, but the slow adoption of this measure at a global level.
Finally, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to Education, Farida Shaheed, stressed the importance of ECCE to the development of individuals, families and communities, and its role as a central element to the realisation of a wide range of economic, social and cultural rights. She noted that ECCE is a key aspect of the right to lifelong education, recognising that this is a right discussed in numerous instruments, and that this right must start at least from birth. Crucially, she emphasised that the legal right to ECCE is already a human right under international law, but there is a need to find levers which make sense for states and allow them to align their international human rights obligations with their political and economic commitments as upheld in SDG4, in particular SDG4.2. Following on from Sandra Fredman’s discussion of the different options available to strengthen international law regarding ECCE rights, she noted that none are mutually exclusive and must be thoroughly discussed with different actors in the context of the evolving right to education.
Following this, the 80 participants present had the opportunity to ask questions of the panellists.
Watch the full recording below to hear more
Articles and publications discussed during the session:
Sandra Fredman et al., 'Recognizing Early Childhood Education as a Human Right in International Law', Human Rights Law Review, Volume 22, Issue 4, December 2022
Find out more about our work on ECCE
Our statement welcoming the UN Special Rapporteur’s ECCE report here. View the recording of the session in which she presented it to the UN General Assembly
- RTE research brief: Child migration and access to Early Childhood Care and Education: Limitations in legal frameworks and other concerns
UNESCO thematic report co-authored by RTE: Building and strengthening the legal framework on ECCE rights: Achievements, challenges and actions for change