Contradictory laws undermine children’s right to education – UN report
The right of children to education is being seriously undermined in dozens of countries by contradictory laws that allow them to work, be married or held criminally responsible at an age when they are legally bound to be in school, according to a new United Nations report launched today.
“The goals of universal education and elimination of child labour are inextricably linked,” says the report, “At what age…are children employed, married and taken to court?”
“In the same country it is not rare to find that children are legally obliged to go to school until they are 14 or 15 years old but that a different law allows them to work at an earlier age or to be married at the age of 12 or to be criminally responsible from the age of seven,” the report’s author, Angela Melchiorre, concludes.
The study was launched in Geneva on the occasion of Education for All Week by the International Bureau of Education of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Right to Education Project, which includes a network of contributors from Brazil to New Zealand headed by UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur Katarina Tomasevski.
“Free and compulsory education of good quality secured until the minimum age for entry to employment is a critical factor in the struggle against economic exploitation of children, while child labour is a fundamental obstacle to the development and implementation of compulsory education strategies,” the report states.
It found that there is no compulsory education in at least 25 countries, 10 of them in sub-Saharan Africa, six in East Asia and the Pacific, four in the Arab States, three in South and West Asia and two in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Only 45 of 158 nations surveyed have equalized the school-leaving age and the minimum age for employment. In 36 countries, children can be employed full-time while they are still obliged to be in full-time education. At the other end of the scale, children in another 21 countries must wait at least a year, and sometimes three after completing compulsory education, before they can legally work.
There is no minimum age for marriage in 38 countries, 15 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, seven in East Asia and the Pacific, six in Latin America and the Caribbean, four in South and West Asia, four in the Arab States and two in North America and Western Europe. In another 44, girls can marry at a younger age than boys. In addition, in many parts of the world, once girls marry they are considered to have attained majority, which means they may lose the protection offered by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).