The right to education. 25 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Olivia Girard

A revolution of childhood started 25 years ago with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In contrast to earlier legally non-binding declarations which aimed to “rescue” children instead of building the world together with them in a kind of partnership, children were given rights through the Convention which must be respected just as much as those of adults: children are deemed to be individuals with an active role in their social environment.

The core principles of the Convention include, among other things, the “best interest” principle – a right which overrides everything else and which takes priority and has to be taken into account in all decisions affecting the child. Then there is the right to life and to survive and the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health – his or her full potential. The Convention demands respect for the perspective of children; they have the right to express themselves freely in all matters concerning them and in doing so must be heard and taken seriously.

The Convention initiated social change and an international debate with the aim of opening up and promoting space for the active involvement as well as the right to participate in society of children – and to do so on an equal footing in that the child is looked at as an individual and not as an incomplete or inferior human being (due to the status as a minor).

Many children are nevertheless still deprived of the right of education. According to the UNICEF report “The State of the World’s Children 2014 – Every Child Counts”, 57 million children of primary school age did not attend any school in 2011 despite decades of effort. Slightly more than 60 percent of young people worldwide attend a secondary school, but only about one third do so in less developed countries. Two-hundred-and-fifty million children are badly educated. The UNESCO report calls for competent teachers as the key to improve the quality of education.

A quarter of a century later, implementing the rights of the child still represents a challenge although the Convention has been ratified by most of the UN states (with the exception of the USA!). It is a long process to make the world understand that children have separate rights which must be respected and taken into account. The Convention on the Rights of the Child aims to protect childhood as a special time of life. Children need their childhood for a healthy soul life and the development of their abilities in order as adults to be able to realise the tasks they have chosen for themselves in the world.

About the author: Olivia Girard is a PR officer and WOW-Day project coordinator at the “Friends of Waldorf Education”. She is currently studying “Childhood Studies and Children’s Rights” at the Free University of Berlin.