More than 600,000 children with disabilities are out of school in South Africa. In a country that has claimed to have achieved universal basic education, children with disabilities experience systemic barriers and discrimination on a daily basis. These children are not guaranteed a quality education on an equal basis with children without disabilities.

Drawing of a female student holding a placard that says “I want to learn” found in Boitumelo Special School in Kimberley, South Africa.

© 2015 Boitumelo Special School

Unequal access is one of the most evident forms of discrimination. Children with disabilities continue to pay school fees and costs that children without disabilities do not pay, or are asked to pay for services so they can go to school. Many parents cannot afford to send children to school, so many stay at home. Others are turned down by schools that do not want to enroll children with disabilities.

Although the government has recently devoted more attention to inclusive education, it has a long way to go to implement its inclusive education policy. A strong, global reminder that South Africa must to do its utmost to ensure children with disabilities have a right to education would have ripple effects at home.

There’s an opportunity to do just that on May 10, when the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva reviews South Africa’s human rights record.

One of the most positive contributions UN member states could make for South Africa’s children would be to press the government on why children with disabilities have not been guaranteed free and compulsory education on an equal basis with children without disabilities. They could also ask the government for a specific timeline to adopt a national plan to make education free, in line with its international obligations, and also ask how it will enforce it so that all children can go to school on an equal basis.