Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Unbroken: An Exhibition of Hope and Determination

(photovoice.org)

(photovoice.org)

Dr. Sadik
Thank you. Thank you very much, Hari. You can see, even though he's been a refugee, he hasn't lost his spirit, and hasn't lost his hope, and not his determination to do something about it. And I hope that some people will listen to what you have to say. Our next speaker is going to be Zama Coursen-Neff, counsel on Children Rights' division at Human Rights Watch. She is a lawyer by profession. She researches and documents violations of children's human rights. She's gone on field missions to Malaysia, Israel and India, and is the author of reports on refugee protection and discrimination, particularly in education. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, she worked for a federal judge, and has worked for various immigration non-profit organizations and with a development organization in Honduras. She is a graduate of New York University of Law and of Davidson College. And she is obviously a very dedicated and determined young woman, who is determined to change the world.

Zama Coursen-Neff
Thank you very much. First of all, I want to thank you so much for having me here. It's certainly a pleasure to be with you, and I appreciate the opportunity to see such a beautiful collection of photographs taken by children like the guests that we have here. I was particularly interested to see photographs of children studying in Bhutanese refugees camps because that is the issue that I would like to talk about today, and that is discrimination in education, understanding one of the four issues that the photographs deal with is discrimination.

The right to education is one of the most protected rights in international law. It is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Articles 28 and 29, and also a variety of other conventions, including the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention On Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and what I think is an under-appreciated, but a particularly favorite convention of mine, the Convention Against Discrimination in Education, which has been signed by 90 countries. And if you haven't heard of it, I encourage you to go home tonight to take a look at it. Fundamental to the right to education is the prohibition on discrimination. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for a right to education without discrimination of any kind on the basis of equal opportunity. And it's important to note that while the right to education itself is a progressive right, meaning that countries have committed to implement the Right to Education as their resources allow them to, the prohibition on discrimination is not a progressive right. That means that regardless of the resources that a country has, it must provide education in a form that is non-discriminatory. This prohibition is extremely important. Discrimination against children in the right to education is cumulative. When children are discriminated against even at the ages of 5 and 6 and 7, that discrimination is reflected at each stage in the educational process. And it is difficult to repair. When you go back to try to fix discrimination that happened as a child, in many cases the child is never able to catch up. This affects children's performance in school, if in fact they have been able to reach school. And you see higher rates of dropping out and lower performance rates on standardized examinations. Finally discriminations is cyclical. It is passed on from generation to generation, so that when one generation of children is discriminated against in education, they grow up and have lower economic opportunities, if that community itself is providing its own education, those teachers are less well-educated. And it is a cycle that perpetuates itself until governments take action to stop it.

What is discrimination? I think we're all familiar with some of the basic grounds, espeically if you coming from an American framework, but the international law enshrines even a wider range of protected grounds, including protection from discrimination against the basis of race, colors, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth. And the Convention on Discrimination describes discrimination in education as including: depriving children of access to education, of limiting children to education of an inferior standard, of confining children to separate educational systems except under certain circumstances, or of inflicting on them conditions of education which are incompatible with their own dignity. Human Rights Watch has documented examples of violations against the prohibition on discrimination in education throughout the world. And I want to highlight a few of those examples, understanding that you will be able to fill in other examples as well.