Renewed commitment needed to ensure a safe, non-violent, inclusive and relevant learning environment for indigenous children

New York, 8 August 2016 - On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, SRSG Santos Pais welcomes this year’s focus on the right to education.

“Despite important improvements in the promotion and protection of indigenous children’s rights, the gap between international human rights instruments and their implementation remains wide and challenging. Of particular relevance to this year’s theme of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples are the severe inequalities indigenous children face in accessing and enjoying education, and in enjoying their culture and language”, the SRSG said.

Drawing on a study published by her office on tackling violence against children in schools, SRSG Santos Pais recalled the particular obstacles that can confront indigenous children in the realisation of their right to an inclusive and violence-free quality education:

“In most countries, indigenous children have low school enrolment rates and, if they do attend school, are less likely than their non-indigenous peers to have the support to stay in school and perform well. Where schools replicate the prejudice and violence that characterizes the communities in which they are located, indigenous children who do attend school risk being subjected to violence, including by their peers or indeed by teaching staff. Indigenous children are also at heightened risk of bullying, which can be compounded by extreme poverty, marginalisation and social exclusion. It is urgent to tackle the bullying, humiliation and abuse that indigenous children suffer as a result.”

Ethnic and cultural discrimination and linguistic barriers at schools are major obstacles to equal access to education, causing poor performance and higher dropout rates. Indigenous girls, in particular, experience difficult problems related to unfriendly school environments, gender discrimination, school-based violence and sometimes sexual abuse, all of which contribute to high dropout rates.

In pursuing initiatives to prevent and address violence against indigenous children, there is a sound international normative foundation to build upon. This includes the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on a Communications Procedure which allows children to bring complaints to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, reaffirming their right to seek justice when their rights are neglected, including when incidents of violence take place.

The holistic vision and targets set out in Agenda 2030 together with its specific references to indigenous peoples provide a crucial framework for action in promoting indigenous children’s right to an inclusive and quality education and in safeguarding their right to freedom from violence. 

Indeed, by reiterating the principle of non-discrimination; and by including a call for safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all, as well as for ensuring access to justice and eliminating all forms of violence against children, the Sustainable Development Goals have a transformative potential that can make a profound and lasting change in the lives of indigenous children.

By capitalizing on the opportunities presented by the implementation of Agenda 2030, we can ensure that its promise to leave no child behind is truly fulfilled.