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Undocumented Migrant Children’s Right to Education

Human Rights Watch Letter to Jordanian Minister of Education

H.E. Dr. Khalid al-Karaki

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch writes this public letter to inform you about several foreign children living in Jordan who have been unable to attend public or private schools due to their undocumented residency status.

The children were born in Jordan to parents who came as migrant workers who then fell out of residency status. The mothers came as domestic workers and left their employment due to what they said were abusive labor conditions. They were unable to regularize their immigration status after learning that they had accumulated daily fines of 1.5 Jordanian dinar (US$3) for every day that they had spent in Jordan without a valid residency permit.  That permit becomes invalid as soon as the employer lists them as having left their employment.

Jordan has obligations to ensure that children have access to education regardless of their residency status, that this access extends to all levels of education, and that all children receive primary education free of charge. Jordan has an obligation to proactively remedy situations in which children have been unable to access education.  These obligations stem from the International Covenant on Economic Social, and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which Jordan has ratified (see below).

We urge you to instruct the school systems in the districts where these children reside to admit these children for the 2010/2011 schoolyear on terms equal to those of Jordanian nationals, in order to fulfill Jordan's obligation to protect the right of all persons within its jurisdiction to education as outlined below.

Right to Education and Residency Status

Jordan is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which spell out the right to education in article 13 (ICESCR), and articles 28 (CRC), respectively.

Article 2.2. of the ICESCR and Article 2 of the CRC prohibit discrimination on the basis of residency status in access to education.[1]  Moreover, Jordan is also a party to the UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education, under which states agree "[t]o give foreign nationals resident within their territory the same access to education as that given to their own nationals."[2]

Jordan has not yet ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW), which also affirms the prohibition of discrimination in the exercise of rights based on status such as documented residency (Art. 7).

Access to All Levels of Education and Free, Compulsory Education

Undocumented migrant children should have access to all levels of education, and their attendance of primary education should be compulsory and free (Article 13, ICESCR). The Committee interpreting the ICESCR in its General Comment No. 13 (1999) on the right to education "confirm[ed] that the principle of non-discrimination extends to all persons of school age residing in the territory of a State party, including non-nationals, and irrespective of their legal status.

The ICRMW states that "access to public pre-school educational institutions or schools shall not be refused or limited by reason of the irregular situation with respect to stay or employment of either parent or by reason of the irregularity of the child's stay in the State of employment" (Art. 30).

State obligation to ensure access to education

Recent interpretation of the right of undocumented migrant children to education has pointed to the obligation of states to ensure such access is provided.

The Committee on Migrant Workers monitoring the application of the ICRMW in Azerbaijan in 2009 said it was "concerned at the information that, in reality, and especially if they are deprived of documents or are in an irregular situation, migrant workers and members of their families may suffer different forms of discrimination, in particular in matters of employment, education, and access to housing."[3] In reviewing Ecuador's application of the convention in 2007, the committee stated its "concern[] at the information that a considerable number of migrant children, and notably children of irregular migrant workers, do not have access to the educational system in Ecuador."[4]

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education in his report on his visit to Germany in 2006 paid special attention to deficits in ensuring the right to education of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants. He noted that "it is probably persons in an illegal immigration situation who encounter the greatest difficulties in the area of education," and criticized Germany because "children with a refugee background are not covered by the compulsory school system."[5] He pointed out the need for States to take action to ensure that all children's right to education is protected, noting that "[i]n the case of illegal immigrants living in Germany ... illegal children are completely excluded from the compulsory school system in the majority of the federal states. "[6]


Your Excellency, we hope you can speedily intervene with the local school systems in the areas where the children listed below live to ensure their access to education.

Our senior researcher Christoph Wilcke, would be pleased to help facilitate your contact with the families of these children.

I look forward to your response.


Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division

[1] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force January 3, 1976, art. 2; CRC, art. 2.

[2] Convention Against Discrimination in Education, adopted December 14, 1960, UNESCO General Conference, 11th Session, Paris, entered into force May 22, 1962, art. 3 [accepted by Jordan April 6, 1976]

[3] Committee on Migrant Workers, Rapport du Comité pour la protection des droits de tous les travailleurs migrants et des membres de leur famille, A/64/48, May 1, 2009, (accessed September 1, 2010), para. 24.

[4]   Committee on Migrant Workers, Report of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, A/63/48, April 25, 2008, (accessed September 1, 2010), para. 35.

[5] UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Muñoz, Visit to Germany,  A/HRC/4/29/Add.3, March 9, 2007, (accessed September 1, 2010), para 68.

[6] Ibid, at 72.

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