28 May 2020

In a press release published today,  the UN Committee on the Right of the Child (CRC)  welcomes Spain’s decision to allow a 12-year old Moroccan child to attend public school in Mellila, a spanish enclave in North Africa, setting a positive example for over 80 other similar unresolved instances.

The Spanish government’s action came some six weeks after the CRC requested that Spain take interim measures to allow N.S., a Moroccan national born and raised in Melilla, to be admitted to a local primary school.

A child's fight for the right to education: from school to the UN

N.S. was born in Melilla to a Moroccan mother who herself had migrated there when she was a child. Both mother and daughter are categorized as irregular residents in the Spanish city and so N.S. was not able to enter the public education system, even though she had reached the age of compulsory schooling, which is from age six to16. 

Starting in 2018, N.S. had campaigned for more than two years with other children in the same situation, demonstrating weekly in front of the Ministry of Education in Melilla to fight for their right to education. 

In November 2019, N.S. and her mother filed a complaint before the judicial administrative court in Melilla to demand she be allowed to attend school there but the judge ruled that N.S. should be educated in Morocco instead. 

N.S and her mother took their complaint to the CRC in February this year, arguing that with no family connections in Morocco, it was unrealistic to demand that she travel without the necessary assistance to receive education in a different country and in a different language. 

The Committee immediately contacted the Spanish government. The local administration in Melilla subsequently informed N.S. on 24 March that she had been admitted to a public school in Melilla. 

“I am the only one now to have been admitted but there are many other children left without school,” N.S. said in a video sharing her joy with the Committee. She added that she would like to see other irregular resident children going to school like her. 

“This is the quickest case to be settled by our individual complaints mechanism. But there are several other similar cases registered with the Committee. We call on Spain to take urgent measures to allow these children to go to school in Melilla, as children have the right to education wherever they live, regardless of their status,” said Committee member Ann Skelton.

The first case on the right to education settled through the CRC complaint mechanism

This is the first case on the right to education settled by the CRC through its complaint mechanism. Since the entry into force of the Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure (OP3 CRC) in 2014, children, groups of children or their representatives can submit complaints (called individual communications) to the CRC for violations of their rights under the Convention and its first two optional protocols against any State that has ratified OP3 CRC. Spain is among the few countries (46) that have done it and which have ruled on the application of the decision of UN treaty bodies. In 2018, the Spanish Supreme Court adopted a revolutionary decision by establishing that the views expressed by UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies in individual complaints are binding on the State. The subject is however under review as a more recent case-law from February 2020 suggests courts may go in a different direction as regards the different binding nature of ECtHR rulings and decisions by UN Treaty Bodies

The case regarding the Moroccan child is an important one which reminds us that every child has the right to education regardless of its citizenship status. Read more here.