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Your Excellency:

At the upcoming U.N. Summit in September, governments will assess their progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Among the goals governments set in 2000 was to ensure that every child is in school by 2015. This goal of universal primary education is not only a fundamental right enshrined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but is also a critical component to eliminating poverty, protecting children from exploitation, and preparing them to be productive, active citizens.

Despite global commitments, sixty million girls and forty million boys are still out of school. Many of these children face significant and systematic barriers to their right to education, including prohibitive school fees, persistent discrimination, child labor, violence, and the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The enclosed advance copy of a new Human Rights Watch report, "Failing Our Children: Barriers to the Right to Education," identifies key obstacles to getting every child into school. Based on more than thirty investigations in over twenty countries, the report finds that:

  • for many children, school fees and related costs of schooling (including books, uniforms, and supplies) put education beyond their reach, causing many children to drop out, start late, or never attend at all;
  • the global HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a devastating effect on children's right to education, as children affected by HIV/AIDS are denied access to school, mistreated because of stigma, or are withdrawn from school to care for sick family members;
  • discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or other status denies many children equal access to education;
  • widespread violence in the schools, including corporal punishment, sexual violence, and violence and harassment against sexual and other minorities undermines children's ability to learn, puts their physical and psychological well-being at risk, and often causes children to drop out;
  • widespread labor exploitation of children severely limits children's opportunities for education, keeping many children out of school entirely;
  • girls face particular barriers to schooling, including sexual violence and traditional gender biases that cause families to give priority to their sons over their daughters for schooling (particularly when faced with prohibitive school fees) and to withdraw girls from school to care for family members ill with HIV/AIDS.

Without addressing the human rights abuses that undermine children's rights to education, governments cannot reach the goal of universal primary education.

As your government recommits itself at the September summit to ensuring that every child is in school and develops strategies to meet this goal, Human Rights Watch urges you to:

  • ensure that no child is ever denied their right to education because of school fees or the associated costs of education;
  • meet existing pledges to provide long-term technical and financial support to achieve universal primary education, including through the Fast-Track Initiative;
  • enact and enforce bans prohibiting discrimination in education against children because of their race, ethnicity, gender, social, or other status and identify and include populations of children that are underserved by the education system;
  • provide families, teachers, education officials and others factual and comprehensive information about HIV/AIDS, and prohibit discrimination against children affected by HIV/AIDS;
  • address the interrelationship between education and child labor by providing incentives to keep children in school, expanding educational opportunities for working children, and making stronger efforts to remove children from the worst forms of child labor;
  • take effective measures to ensure the safety of schoolchildren and prohibit corporal punishment;
  • educate families and communities about the benefits of girls' education, provide incentives to enroll and retain girls in school, improve security for schoolgirls, and take effective action against those responsible for sexual violence against girls in school.

Additional and more detailed recommendations can be found in our report.

Education is not only a fundamental human right, but also an essential component of long-term development efforts. Fulfilling this right will bring immeasurable benefits not only to children, but to generations to come.

Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact us with any questions about our report or its recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Jo Becker

Advocacy Director

Children's Rights Division

Joanna Weschler

United Nations Representative

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