Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education

supporting inclusion, challenging exclusion

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

in a nutshell

The Convention (1989, in force 1990) covers the rights of children. Article 2 asserts the right to enjoyment of these rights without discrimination; article 23 makes special provision for disabled children; articles 28 and 29 detail the right to education.

Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the Convention is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Each state that has ratified the Convention periodically prepares reports on its implementation which are submitted to the Committee. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) may submit ‘alternative’ reports to the Committee. The Committee considers the reports and examines government delegations from the states concerned at one of its three sessions per year, and prepares its concluding observations and recommendations for further action.

View extracts from the Committee’s recommendations to states concerning inclusive education (2002-2013):

The Convention is built around the following four general principles:

1. Non-discrimination. Article 2 states:

‘(1) States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

(2) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.’

2. The best interests of the child. Article 3 states:

‘(1) In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration….’

3. Optimal development. Article 6 states:

‘(1) States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

(2) States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.’

4. The voice of the child. Article 12 states:

‘(1) States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child….’

Article 23 is specifically concerned with disabled children, in recognition of their vulnerability to segregation and discrimination. It states:

‘(1) States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.

(2) States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care….

(3) Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article … shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development….’

Articles 28 and 29 cover the right to education. Article 28 states:

‘(1) States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

  1. make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
  2. encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;
  3. make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;
  4. make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;
  5. take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates….’

Article 29 states:

(1) States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

  1. the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
  2. the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
  3. the development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
  4. the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
  5. the development of respect for the natural environment.

(2) No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.’

General comments

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has adopted a number of general comments – documents clarifying its interpretation of the Convention – which are relevant to inclusive education:

General Comment No. 1

General Comment No. 1 on the aims of education (2001), focusing on article 29 of the Convention, states in paragraphs 10 and 11:

‘Discrimination on the basis of any of the grounds listed in article 2 of the Convention, whether it is overt or hidden, offends the human dignity of the child and is capable of undermining or even destroying the capacity of the child to benefit from educational opportunities. While denying a child’s access to educational opportunities is primarily a matter which relates to article 28 of the Convention, there are many ways in which failure to comply with the principles contained in article 29 (1) can have a similar effect. To take an extreme example, gender discrimination can be reinforced by practices such as a curriculum which is inconsistent with the principles of gender equality, by arrangements which limit the benefits girls can obtain from the educational opportunities offered, and by unsafe or unfriendly environments which discourage girls' participation. Discrimination against children with disabilities is also pervasive in many formal educational systems and in a great many informal educational settings, including in the home. Children with HIV/AIDS are also heavily discriminated against in both settings. All such discriminatory practices are in direct contradiction with the requirements in article 29 (1) (a) that education be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.

The Committee also wishes to highlight the links between article 29 (1) and the struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Racism and related phenomena thrive where there is ignorance, unfounded fears of racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic or other forms of difference, the exploitation of prejudices, or the teaching or dissemination of distorted values. A reliable and enduring antidote to all of these failings is the provision of education which promotes an understanding and appreciation of the values reflected in article 29 (1), including respect for differences, and challenges all aspects of discrimination and prejudice. Education should thus be accorded one of the highest priorities in all campaigns against the evils of racism and related phenomena. Emphasis must also be placed upon the importance of teaching about racism as it has been practised historically, and particularly as it manifests or has manifested itself within particular communities. Racist behaviour is not something engaged in only by ‘others’. It is therefore important to focus on the child’s own community when teaching human and children's rights and the principle of non-discrimination. Such teaching can effectively contribute to the prevention and elimination of racism, ethnic discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.’

General Comment No. 6

General Comment No. 6 on the treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin (2005) clarifies that these children have the same right to education as all children, and describes the obligation on states in paragraphs 41 and 42 (full access to education):

‘States should ensure that access to education is maintained during all phases of the displacement cycle. Every unaccompanied and separated child, irrespective of status, shall have full access to education in the country that they have entered in line with articles 28, 29 (1) (c), 30 and 32 of the Convention and the general principles developed by the Committee. Such access should be granted without discrimination and in particular, separated and unaccompanied girls shall have equal access to formal and informal education, including vocational training at all levels. Access to quality education should also be ensured for children with special needs, in particular children with disabilities.

The unaccompanied or separated child should be registered with appropriate school authorities as soon as possible and get assistance in maximizing learning opportunities. All unaccompanied and separated children have the right to maintain their cultural identity and values, including the maintenance and development of their native language. All adolescents should be allowed to enrol in vocational/professional training or education, and early learning programmes should be made available to young children. States should ensure that unaccompanied or separated children are provided with school certificates or other documentation indicating their level of education, in particular in preparation of relocation, resettlement or return.’

General comment no.6 - full text (PDF)

General Comment No. 9

General Comment No. 9 on the rights of children with disabilities (2006) was adopted in recognition of poor situation of many disabled children. As paragraph 5 states:

‘... children with disabilities are still experiencing serious difficulties and facing barriers to the full enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Convention. The Committee emphasizes that the barrier is not the disability itself but rather a combination of social, cultural, attitudinal and physical obstacles which children with disabilities encounter in their daily lives. The strategy for promoting their rights is therefore to take the necessary action to remove those barriers. Acknowledging the importance of articles 2 and 23 of the Convention, the Committee states from the outset that the implementation of the Convention with regards to children with disabilities should not be limited to these articles.’

On inclusive education specifically, the Committee writes (paragraphs 66 and 67):

‘Inclusive education should be the goal of educating children with disabilities. The manner and form of inclusion must be dictated by the individual educational needs of the child, since the education of some children with disabilities requires a kind of support which may not be readily available in the regular school system. The Committee notes the explicit commitment towards the goal of inclusive education contained in the draft convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and the obligation for States to ensure that persons including children with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability and that they receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education. It encourages States parties which have not yet begun a programme towards inclusion to introduce the necessary measures to achieve this goal. However, the Committee underlines that the extent of inclusion within the general education system may vary. A continuum of services and programme options must be maintained in circumstances where fully inclusive education is not feasible to achieve in the immediate future.

The movement towards inclusive education has received much support in recent years. However, the term inclusive may have different meanings. At its core, inclusive education is a set of values, principles and practices that seeks meaningful, effective, and quality education for all students, that does justice to the diversity of learning conditions and requirements not only of children with disabilities, but for all students. This goal can be achieved by different organizational means which respect the diversity of children. Inclusion may range from full-time placement of all students with disabilities into one regular classroom or placement into the regular class room with varying degree of inclusion, including a certain portion of special education. It is important to understand that inclusion should not be understood nor practiced as simply integrating children with disabilities into the regular system regardless of their challenges and needs. Close cooperation among special educators and regular educators is essential. Schools’ curricula must be re-evaluated and developed to meet the needs of children with and without disabilities. Modification in training programmes for teachers and other personnel involved in the educational system must be achieved in order to fully implement the philosophy of inclusive education.’

General comment no.9 - full text (including further information relating to education) (PDF)

General Comment No. 11

General Comment No. 11 on indigenous children and their rights under the Convention (2009) was adopted because ‘indigenous children continue to experience serious discrimination contrary to article 2 of the Convention in a range of areas, including in their access to health care and education, (para. 5). The Committee states (paras. 58, 59)

‘In order to ensure that the aims of education are in line with the Convention, States parties are responsible for protecting children from all forms of discrimination as set out in article 2 of the Convention and for actively combating racism. This duty is particularly pertinent in relation to indigenous children. In order to effectively implement this obligation, States parties should ensure that the curricula, educational materials and history text books provide a fair, accurate and informative portrayal of the societies and cultures of indigenous peoples. Discriminatory practices, such as restrictions on the use cultural and traditional dress, should be avoided in the school setting.

Article 28 of the Convention sets out that States parties shall ensure that primary education is compulsory and available to all children on the basis of equal opportunity. States parties are encouraged to make secondary and vocational education available and accessible to every child. However, in practice, indigenous children are less likely to be enrolled in school and continue to have higher drop out and illiteracy rates than non-indigenous children. Most indigenous children have reduced access to education due to a variety of factors including insufficient educational facilities and teachers, direct or indirect costs for education as well as a lack of culturally adjusted and bilingual curricula in accordance with article 30. Furthermore, indigenous children are frequently confronted with discrimination and racism in the school setting.

To ensure the right to education for indigenous children, governments should, among other things, ensure that school facilities are available where indigenous children live and adapt the school cycle to take account of cultural practices such as agricultural seasons and ceremonial periods (para. 61), and provide bilingual and inter-cultural curricula (para. 62).

General comment no. 11 – full text (PDF)

General discussion days

In 2003, the Committee on the Rights of the Child held a day of general discussion on the rights of indigenous children. The recommendations adopted by the Committee following the discussion included the following relating to education (para. 19):

‘[The Committee recommends] that States parties ensure access for indigenous children to appropriate and high quality education while taking complementary measures to eradicate child labour, including through the provision of informal education where appropriate. In this regard, the Committee recommends that States parties, with the active participation of indigenous communities and children:

  1. review and revise school curricula and textbooks to develop respect among all children for indigenous cultural identity, history, language and values in accordance with the Committee’s General Comment no. 1 on the aims of education;
  2. implement indigenous children’s right to be taught to read and write in their own indigenous language or in the language most commonly used by the group to which they belong, as well as in the national language(s) of the country in which they live;
  3. undertake measures to effectively address the comparatively higher drop out rates among indigenous youth and ensure that indigenous children are adequately prepared for higher education, vocational training and their further economic, social and cultural aspirations;
  4. take effective measures to increase the number of teachers from indigenous communities or who speak indigenous languages, provide them with appropriate training, and ensure that they are not discriminated against in relation to other teachers;
  5. allocate sufficient financial, material and human resources to implement these programmes and policies effectively.’

Full text of the recommendations (PDF)

In 1997, the Committee held a day of general discussion on the rights of children with disabilities. Key issues included the necessity for action to ‘promote access to education’ and to ‘train teachers to work in inclusive schools’ (para.333). Participants identified a need for those involved in monitoring the Convention to include activities that challenge ‘the segregation of children with disabilities in separate institutions for care, treatment and education’, seen as ‘practices [which] discriminate against disabled children and deny them equal opportunities to the rights guaranteed by the Convention’ (para.245). Paragraph 335 of the report of the discussion states:

‘The inclusion of disabled children was a right, not a privilege. There was an important distinction between integration and inclusion. Policies of integration tended to seek to change the child in order to fit into the school. Inclusion, on the other hand, sought to change the school environment in order to meet the needs of the disabled child. Inclusive education needed to be introduced as part of a strategy for promoting an inclusive society. Marginalization and exclusion of disabled children were often defended on grounds of cost-effectiveness. However, such arguments could not be sustained when the question was turned around: can we afford the costs of exclusion? The loss to societies throughout the world of failure to include disabled children was huge: all their potential productive capacity was wasted. We also lost potential for enrichment through their contribution to the social, creative, cultural and emotional dimensions of society. Inclusion was not an expensive luxury, but rather an opportunity for all children to become productive members of society. Indeed, failure to promote the inclusion of disabled children sometimes reflected less a lack of resources and more a lack of political will. It was often those Governments claiming to be least able to promote the rights of disabled children that were spending a significant proportion of the country’s wealth on armaments and other military expenditures.’

The rights of children with disabilities - report of the UN discussion. (PDF)

A day of general discussion on the girl child was held in 1995, which included attention to the difficulties faced by girls worldwide in accessing education and the need to eradicate gender discrimination through, among other things, eliminating stereotypes in educational materials.

The girl child report (PDF)

Note: some of the documents on this page are in PDF format. In order to view a PDF you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader

Page last updated: Wednesday 04 September 2019

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