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We, the undersigned individuals, are scholars, experts, and researchers on the education, development, wellbeing, and rights of children and adolescents. We write to express our support for a new optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) focused on the right to free education.[1] The aim of this initiative is to ensure recognition under international law of the right to free early childhood education and free secondary education, alongside the already-existing right to free and compulsory primary education.

Well-established scientific evidence shows unequivocally that education is foundational to children’s healthy development, wellbeing, fulfilment of their full potential, and their lifelong prospects. Not only is education valuable in its own right, it has a multiplier effect—that is, education helps position children to secure their other rights during childhood and subsequently as adults. At a societal level, investing in education is any country’s most effective policy tool to ensure prosperity, social cohesion, and sustainable development.

Although research evidence is clear on the importance of education to children’s holistic development, international law has not kept pace. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the foundational instrument of the modern human rights movement—recognized every individual has the right to education, mandating that primary education be free and compulsory for all. In the more than 70 years since then, the international law standard on the right to education has changed little. While the right to education has been enshrined in legally-binding treaties—including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)—international law has not expressly recognized early childhood education (pre-primary education) or mandated free secondary education for all children. These treaties have been silent on early childhood education, while calling on states to make secondary education “available and accessible” but stopping short of requiring that it be made available free. We believe it is time for that to change.

International consensus and frameworks (e.g., the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals) urge access to high-quality early childhood education, which, according to the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s “General Comment No. 7 on Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood”, must be understood as beginning at birth. Similarly, evidence from research on adolescent development reveals the importance of secondary education to children’s healthy development and lifelong prospects, including their capacity to navigate the complexities of our world in the 21st Century.

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call on states to ensure all children have access to quality early childhood education and care (SDG 4.2) and free secondary education (SDG 4.1), global monitoring data show the world is far from achieving the 2030 targets. Significant disparities persist among—and within—countries and regions, compounding stark inequalities of access, opportunity, condition, and outcome, especially for children from disadvantaged and marginalized communities. We therefore call for an urgent renewed commitment to education systems that realize just and equitable outcomes for ALL children. And we believe it is essential that this commitment be backed by a legal mandate to ensure its success.

The world has changed dramatically since 1948, and our understanding of how children develop and flourish has advanced significantly. To ensure education systems contribute to realizing children’s rights enshrined in UNCRC, it is critical that we secure their right to education from birth through secondary education.

We, therefore, call on all U.N. member states to support a new optional protocol to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child that will recognize the importance of education to children’s healthy development by mandating that governments ensure every child has access to free pre-primary[2], primary, and secondary education.


Jonathan Todres, Distinguished University Professor & Professor of Law, Georgia State University, United States (

Mathias Urban, Desmond Chair of Early Childhood Education, Early Childhood Research Centre, Dublin City University, Ireland (

Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Samuel F. and Rose B. Gingold Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Director, Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy and, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, United States

Alejandro Acosta, Member of the Executive Board of the International Network on Peace Building with Young Children, INPB, Colombia

Bruce Adamson, Professor in Practice, University of Glasgow School of Law; Former Children and Young Person’s Commissioner Scotland, United Kingdom

Vina Adriany, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia; Director, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation – Center for Early Childhood Care, Education and Parenting (SEAMEO-CECCEP)

Philip Alston, Professor of Law, New York University School of Law, United States

Pramod K. Anand, Visiting Fellow, Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries, New Delhi, India

Marisol Moreno Angarita, Professor, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Colombia

W. Steven Barnett, Board of Governors Professor, National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers University, United States

Klaus D. Beiter, Professor of Law, North-West University, South Africa

Marianne N. Bloch, Professor Emerita, Curriculum & Instruction, Gender and Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin Madison, United States

Richard J. Bonnie, Harrison Foundation Professor Emeritus of Law, Medicine, and Public Policy, Director Emeritus, Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy, University of Virginia School of Law, United States

Tammy Chang, Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Michigan, United States

Tara M. Collins, Associate Professor, School of Child and Youth Care, Toronto Metropolitan University, Canada; Honorary Associate Professor, Children's Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Claudia Costín, Professor and founding director, Center for Excellence and Innovation of Education Policies (FGV-CEIPE); CEO, Instituto Singularidades, São Paulo, Brazil. Former Senior Director for Global Education, The World Bank

Gunilla Dahlberg, Professor Emerita of Education, Department of Child and Youth Studies, Stockholm University, Sweden

Carmen Dalli, Professor of Early Childhood Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Angela Diaz, Dean of Global Health, Social Justice, and Human Rights, Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Global Health and Health Systems Design and Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, United States

Jaap E. Doek, Former Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2001-2007); Leiden University Law School, Department of Children’s Rights, The Netherlands

Hasina Banu Ebrahim, UNESCO Co-chair for Early Childhood Education, Care and Development, University of South Africa, South Africa

Elvis Fokala, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Tali Gal, Chair in Child and Youth Rights, Professor of Law and Criminology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Savitri Goonesekere, Emeritus Professor of Law University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Jeffrey Goldhagen, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Florida College of Medicine, United States; President, International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health

Sally Holland, Athro Gwaith Cymdeithasol / Professor of Social Work, Ysgol Gwyddorau Cymdeithasol Caerdydd / Cardiff School of Social Sciences; Children’s Commissioner for Wales (2015-2022), United Kingdom

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Fahmy and Donna Attallah Chair in Humanistic Psychology; Director, USC Center for Affective Neuroscience, Development, Learning and Education (; Professor of Education, Psychology & Neuroscience, University of Southern California, United States

Shin-ichi Ishikawa, Professor, Faculty of Psychology, Doshisha University, Japan

Philip D. Jaffé, Professor, Center for Children’s Rights Studies, University of Geneva, Switzerland; Member, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Victor P. Karunan, Visiting Professor, Social Policy and Development, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand

Ondrej Kascak, Professor of Education and Head of Department, University of Trnava, Slovakia

Olga Khazova, former member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2013-2021)

Ursula Kilkelly, Professor, School of Law, University College Cork, Ireland

Lothar Krappmann, Professor Doctor, Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany (retired); former Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003 - 2011)

Mercedes Mayol Lassalle, Professor of Education, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina; World President, Organisation Mondiale pour l’Éducation Préscolaire (OMEP)

Yanghee Lee, Professor Emeritus, Sungkyunkwan University, Republic of Korea; Former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Former Chairperson of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; President of International Child Rights Center; Founding Member of Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

Manfred Liebel, Professor Doctor, University of Applied Sciences Potsdam; Master Childhood Studies and Children’s Rights (MACR), Germany

Ton Liefaard, Professor of Children’s Rights, UNICEF Chair in Children’s Rights, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Laura Lundy, Professor of Children’s Rights, Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom; Professor of Law, University College Cork, Ireland

Kofi Marfo, Professor and Founding Director of the Institute for Human Development at Aga Khan University, Nairobi, Kenya

Helen May, Professor Emerita of Education, University of Otago, New Zealand

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Professor of Law, University of the Western Cape, South Africa; Member, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Linda Mitchell, Professor of Education, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Zoe Moody, Professor, University of Teacher Education Valais & Center for Children's Rights Studies, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Peter Moss, Emeritus Professor of Early Childhood Provision, Institute of Education, University College London, United Kingdom

Vernor Muñoz, Head of Policy & Advocacy, Global Campaign for Education, Costa Rica; Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

Endeley Margaret Nalova, Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Education, University of Buea, Cameroon

Elin Eriksen Ødegaard, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Director of KINDknow Research Centre, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway

Conor O'Mahony, Professor, University College Cork School of Law, Ireland

Ann Quennerstedt, Professor of Education, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, Örebro University, Sweden

Sylvie Rayna, Professor Emerita; Senior Research Fellow, Centre de Recherche Interuniversitaire Expérience Ressources Culturelles Éducation (EXPERICE), Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, France

Elin Kirsti Lie Reikerås, Professor in Early Childhood Education, Leader of FILIORUM – Centre for Research in Early Childhood Education and Care, The University of Stavanger, Norway

Axel Rivas, Professor and Dean, School of Education; Director, Center for Applied Research in Education (CIAESA), Universidad de San Andrés, Argentina

Nevena Vuckovic Sahovic, Professor of International Public Law and Rights of the Child, Child Rights Centre, Belgrade, Serbia

Iram Siraj, Professor of Child Development and Education, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Distinguished Research Professor University of Maynooth, Ireland

Mariana Souto-Manning, President and Irving and Neison Harris President’s Chair, The Erikson Institute Graduate School in Child Development, United States

Helen Stalford, Professor of Law, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom

Beth Swadener, Professor Emerita, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University, United States

David B. Thronson, Alan S. Zekelman Professor of International Human Rights Law, Michigan State University College of Law, United States

Kay Tisdall, Professor of Childhood Policy, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

John Tobin, Francine V McNiff Chair in International Human Rights Law, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Australia

Afua Twum-Danso Imoh, Associate Professor in Global Childhoods and Welfare, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Michel Vandenbroeck, Professor of Family Pedagogy, Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy, Ghent University, Belgium

Wouter Vandenhole, Full Professor of Human and Children’s Rights, Law and Development Research Group, University of Antwerp, Belgium

Emily Vargas-Barón, Director, Institute for Reconstruction and International Security through Education (RISE), Washington, DC, United States

Philip Veerman, CPsychol, Health Psychologist, Youth Intervention Team, The Hague, The Netherlands

Ana Vergara del Solar, Professor, School of Psychology, Universidad de Santiago, Chile

Joanna Williams, Senior Director of Research, Search Institute, United States

Nicolás Espejo Yaksic, Centre for Constitutional Studies, Supreme Court of Mexico, Mexico

Kazuhiro Yoshida, Professor/Director, Center for the Study of International Cooperation in Education (CICE), IDEC Institute, Hiroshima University, Japan

Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education, Department of Applied Psychology, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University, United States

[Note: Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.]

[1] There are currently three Optional Protocols to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child: Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (adopted in 2000; currently 178 states parties); Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (adopted in 2000, currently 173 states parties); Optional Protocol on a communications procedure (adopted in 2011; currently 52 states parties).

[2] While as researchers we recognize that early childhood care and education starts from birth, we are cognizant of resource limitations in many areas of the world. We support efforts to ensure at least one year of pre-primary education for all children, while states and civil society work to secure the resources needed to develop more comprehensive early childhood care and education programs.

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