Across the world, more than 120 million children and adolescents are absent from class.
In recent years, many countries have been part of international and regional political drives to ensure that all children have access and complete education in the countries that lag behind the most. Such efforts have had some success, with tens of millions entering primary education, and more girls staying in school and pursuing secondary education, improving gender parity in more countries.
Yet despite these and other advances, warnings sounded by the UN and global policy experts indicate that the global progress in education has “left behind” millions of children and young people. More children and adolescents are at risk of dropping out of school, and many are at school facing unsuitable learning conditions.
Behind this failure stands governments, which bear responsibility for ensuring that no child or young person is without education, and lack of focus—both in implementation and in content—in development agendas on governments’ human rights obligations.
This has resulted in an “education deficit”—a shortfall between the educational reality that children experience around the world and what governments have promised and committed to through human rights treaties. This not only undermines the fundamental human right to education, but has real and dire consequences for global development, and entire generations of children.
The benefits of education to both children and broader society could not be clearer. Education can break generational cycles of poverty by enabling children to gain the life skills and knowledge needed to cope with today’s challenges. Education is strongly linked to concrete improvements in health and nutrition, improving children’s very chances for survival. Education empowers children to be full and active participants in society, able to exercise their rights and engage in civil and political life. Education is also a powerful protection factor: children who are in school are less likely to come into conflict with the law and much less vulnerable to rampant forms of child exploitation, including child labor, trafficking, and recruitment into armed groups and forces.
196 member states have adopted legal obligations towards all children in their territories, and countries that ratify specific international and regional conventions are legally bound to protect the right to education and to follow detailed parameters as to how to do so.
Based on research in over 40 countries, this report looks at the key barriers that threaten the right to education today, and the key ways that governments are failing to deliver on core aspects of their right to education obligations. These include ensuring that primary school education is free and compulsory and that secondary education is progressively free and accessible to all children; reducing costs related to education, such as transport; ensuring that schools are free of discrimination, including based on gender, race, and disability; and ensuring schools are free of violence and sexual abuse. It also looks at the main violations and abuses keeping children out of school, including those that occur in global crises, armed conflict—particularly when education is attacked by armed groups,—and forced displacement.
This report finds that many of the same governments that have signed on to development agendas and form part of global partnerships—including among the 16 champion countries that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed in September 2012 to “lead by example”to promote education globally—are those that are also failing many of their school-aged children.
In the new era of sustainable development, where all countries are expected to implement a universal development agenda, all governments need to be held to account for ongoing human rights abuses affecting a significant part of their young population, as well as a failure to provide adequate or timely protections to which children are entitled under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.