Key Instruments Supporting International Inclusive Education

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The right of children to have access to inclusive education is widely supported in international human rights law, international conventions ratified by its members and the majority of human rights instruments.

The concept and practice of inclusive education has gained worldwide attention in the past few decades. From the launching of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the more recent UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the global community has supported the vision of transforming policy and practice toward educating all children.

Several key instruments that support the goal of creating inclusive environments for learning without discrimination on any grounds include:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1448, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere.  The UNHR was the first international recognition that all people have fundamental rights and freedoms. This declaration laid the groundwork for future instruments protecting the specific rights of children and including education as a basic human right.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political, and social. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection as apart from adults. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights as well.

The Convention establishes the basic human rights for children everywhere: the right to survival; the right to develop to the fullest; the right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. The four core principles of the Convention are nondiscrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.

Salamanca Statement (1994) on Inclusive Education

The World Conference on Special Needs Education in June 1994 is considered to be the impetus for inclusive education worldwide. The Salamanca Statement, a product of the conference, and accompanying framework for action represent a worldwide consensus on future directions for the education of children with special needs. The statement affirms the right to education of every individual, regardless of individual differences, within the regular education system and the right of children with special educational needs to receive whatever extra support they may require to ensure their effective education. Governments and the international community are urged to adopt the principle of inclusive education among several other actions.

The Dakar Framework for Action (2000)

The Dakar Framework for Action is the frame of reference for the Education for All initiative, the United Nation’s primary commitment to provide quality basic education for al children, youth and adults. During the World Education Forum meeting in April 2000 in Dakar, Senegal, the vision established by the Salamanca Statement was reaffirmed. The Dakar Framework for Action avowed the goal of Education for All and commits governments to achieving quality basic education for all by 2015 or earlier, with particular emphasis on girls’ education, and includes a pledge from donor countries and institutions that “no country seriously committed to basic education will be thwarted in the achievement of this goal by lack of resources.”  The framework mandates that UNESCO coordinate the partnerships between UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the World Bank towards reaching the goals of Education for All.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

This UN Convention is the most recent human rights instrument incorporating the message of inclusion for all people in education and other areas of life. The purpose of the convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities. It covers a number of key areas such as accessibility, personal mobility, health, education, employment, habilitation, and rehabilitation, participation in political life, and equality and nondiscrimination. The convention marks a shift in thinking about disability from a social welfare concern, to a human rights issue, which acknowledges that societal barriers and prejudices are themselves disabling.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The international community, through the UN, targeted eight goals which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Goal #2 is achieving universal primary education for all children by the target date of 2015. These goals form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions.

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