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Podcast #49: On the anniversary of the CRC, children’s right to education remains a challenge

'Beyond School Books' - a podcast series on education in emergencies

© UNICEF/INDA2011-00070/Crouch
Pausha Madharia, 16, holds a youth newspaper for children in rural India. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms children's right to speak freely and to articulate their concerns. This bi-monthly newspaper, titled 'Children Independence' and sponsored by UNICEF, encourages children to ask questions of senior members of the community.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 21 November, 2011 – This year marks the 22nd anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Ratified by 193 states, the Convention has gained wide support worldwide and transformed the way children are treated around the globe. Yet children’s right to education as a fundamental human right remains a challenge – especially for those living in conflict areas. 

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UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with two experts, Professor Philip G. Alston and Professor David M. Smolin, about the achievements of the last 22 years as well as the challenges that lie ahead.  

The right to education

Professor Alston teaches law at New York University School of Law and co-chairs the law school's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. In 1989, he was part of the UNICEF delegation to the drafting sessions of the Convention. He later served as adviser in promoting the ratification of the Convention by countries around the world.

Discussing the right to education, Professor Alston observed that, despite the fact that children’s right to free primary education is guaranteed through the international law, in reality access to quality education is often dictated by the availability of resources. 

“It has only been in the last 10–15 years that governments have come to acknowledge that charges to primary education constitute a fundamental obstacle to children getting educated in a great many situations,” he explained.

Professor David Smolin, a professor of law at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama, emphasized that the right to education is closely linked with one’s right to fully participate in one’s own culture. “Education equips people for their vocational future and to have a better possibility, a better job and a better earning capacity, he said. “To be illiterate, to lack primary education, is to be stripped of the capacity to participate fully in your own culture.”

Challenges ahead

The last two decades have yielded remarkable progress in the protection and advancement of children rights. Yet many children still go without food, shelter or healthcare and face lives of poverty and abuse. According to UNESCO, approximately 67 million of them are missing out on education and the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Highlighting the challenges ahead, Professor Alston said, “I would like to see more resources devoted to children rights, more formal legislative recognition of treating children as right barriers, recognising their right to participation in decisions that affect them.”       

Professor Smolin stressed that advancing children’s rights is part of the broader effort to make a better world for all human beings. “The truth is that you can’t really protect children and provide children with what they need without providing adults with what they need,” he said. “I don’t think we have yet fully worked out what it means to recognize a child as a human person with rights and yet recognize that they are in this certain stage of human development where you have to protect them from certain things and you have to provide certain things.”




15 November 2011:  To commemorate the  22nd Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke interviews Professor Philip G. Alston, a legal adviser to UNICEF in drafting the articles and Professor David Mark Smolin from the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama and child rights advocate.
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