Education is a fundamental human right and one of the most powerful tools for improving children’s lives. Education improves children’s health, their standard of living, protects them from exploitation and abuse, and expands their future opportunities and participation in civic life. It lifts children out of poverty, reduces inequality, and helps build strong, sustainable societies.
Existing international law guarantees the right to education for all but does not explicitly guarantee children’s right to free pre-primary or free secondary education. While an estimated 85 percent of children worldwide complete primary school, only half of the world’s children are enrolled in pre-primary education or complete secondary school.  Children from families living in poverty are the least likely to attend, with cost remaining a significant barrier for many.
We believe it is time to update the right to education under international law, and explicitly guarantee children’s right to free pre-primary and free secondary education. It is no longer acceptable that children’s development and future prospects are determined by their families’ ability to pay for education.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought additional urgency to this goal, creating some of the most disastrous consequences for children’s right to education in history. Efforts to build back better education systems should not only remediate this devastation but also ensure that children’s right to education is sufficient for them to thrive in today’s world.
As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, all governments have committed to ensure that by 2030, all girls and boys have access to quality pre-primary education, and free, equitable and quality secondary education. This commitment should be cemented in binding international law.
We support a new optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would explicitly guarantees the right to free secondary education and at least one year of free and compulsory pre-primary education. Establishing and fulfilling this right will benefit children and societies for generations to come.
Initial signers (as of May 31, 2022):
Vihaan Agarwal (India), International Children’s Peace Prize laureate (2021)
Amal al-Dossari (Bahrain), former member, Committee on the Rights of the Child
Philip Alston (Australia), former Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Louise Arbour (Canada), former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Chernor Bah (Sierra Leone), co-founder, A World At School and Purposeful; former youth advisory group chair, Global Education First Initiative
Carol Bellamy (US), former executive director, UNICEF
Irina Bukova (Bulgaria), former director general, UNESCO
Olivier De Schutter (Belgium), UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Solomon Dersso (Ethiopia), African Commission on Human and People’s Rights
Jaap Doek (Netherlands), former chairperson, Committee on the Rights of the Child
Marc Dullaert (Netherlands), former chair, European ombudspersons and commissioners for children
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Jordan), former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Tawakkol Karman (Yemen), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2011)
Theoni Koufonikolakou (Greece), deputy ombuds for children’s rights, Greece
Anthony Lake (United States), former executive director, UNICEF
Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea), former chairperson, Committee on the Rights of the Child
Moushira Khattab (Egypt), African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, former member, Committee on the Rights of the Child
Lothar Krappmann (Germany), former member, Committee on the Rights of the Child
Koichiro Matsuura (Japan), former director general, UNESCO
Vernor Munoz Villalobos (Costa Rica), former Special Rapporteur on the right to education
Faith Mwangi-Powell (Uganda), CEO, Girls not Brides
Chaeli Mycroft (South Africa), International Children’s Peace Prize laureate (2011)
Salima Namusobya (Uganda), working group on economic, social, and cultural rights, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights; executive director, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights
Joseph Ndayisenga (Burundi), chairperson, African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Christina Nomdo (South Africa), Western Cape Commissioner for Children, South Africa
Rosa Maria Ortiz (Paraguay), former commissioner on children’s rights, InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights
Marta Santos Pais (Portugal), former Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children
Elina Pekkarinen (Finland), Ombudsman for Children in Finland
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (Brazil), former Independent Expert of the UN Secretary- General for the World Report on Violence Against Children
Sadat Rahman (Bangladesh), International Children’s Peace Prize laureate (2020)
Kailash Satyarthi (India), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2014)
Nevena Vuckovic Sahovic (Serbia), former member, Committee on the Rights of the Child
Yasmine Sherif (Sweden), director, Education Cannot Wait
Jody Williams (United States), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1997)
Jean Zermatten (Switzerland), former chairperson, Committee on the Rights of the Child
 UNESCO, Global Education Monitoring Report Summary 2020: Inclusion and Education: All Means All, p 27. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000373721