TSA advocates for guaranteeing the right to free preschool and secondary education through the Convention on the Rights of the Child


On 21 December 2023, together with 10 international NGOs, TSA sent an open letter of invitation to the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria urging it to support the creation of a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child during its term on the Human Rights Council in 2024-2026, which would recognize the right of all children to early education, including at least one year of free preschool, and free secondary education for all children.


Ms Maria Gabriel, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria and Minister for Foreign Affairs


Prof. Galin Tsokov, Minister of Education and Science

Ms Ivanka Shalapatova, Minister of Labour and Social Policy

prof. Hristo Hinkov, Minister of Health

Subject: Seeking your Government’s support for a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child during your mandate at the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2024-2026.

Dear Madam Deputy Prime Minister,

Given Bulgaria’s long-standing commitment to protecting children’s rights, we kindly encourage you to support a new initiative aimed at strengthening the right to free education under international law. In particular, we seek your support for the development of a fourth optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This protocol would explicitly recognize the right of all children to early childhood education, including at least one year of free preschool and free secondary education for all children.

We sincerely thank you for your support for the implementation of the briefing for the Council of Europe region on “Strengthening the right to free education: from pre-school to secondary education”, which took place on 5 December 2023 in Geneva. We also deeply appreciate that your Government signed the statement of support for the right to education led by Luxembourg and the Dominican Republic during the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council. This statement, endorsed by 73 States in different regions, marked a key moment in prioritizing efforts to realize the right to free education. Bulgaria has one of the most progressive laws in the world, guaranteeing four years of free pre-primary education and 12 years of free primary and secondary education.

In your National Commitment to the Council, Bulgaria pledges to promote inclusive education globally as a key means of ensuring the right to education for all children, with a particular focus on equal participation. However, our analysis shows that the cost of education remains a significant barrier for millions of children around the world, including those with disabilities, who face additional financial hardship. Free access to pre-primary and secondary education can be particularly beneficial for children with disabilities by increasing their capacity to benefit from education, encouraging enrolment and attendance, and reducing stigma and discrimination against them.

While the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly guarantees free primary education for all children, it does not require access to free secondary education for all children and does not contain explicit references to the right to early childhood education or to its being free. Yet free primary education alone is insufficient to prepare children to succeed in today’s world.

Bulgaria’s upcoming membership in the Council, together with its membership in the Executive Board of the UN Children’s Fund, puts Bulgaria in a unique position to advocate for the advancement of children’s right to free education. We hope that Bulgaria will consider joining an inter-regional group of countries to support this initiative. Such participation will require collaboration with other Member States at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to develop and endorse joint statements, sponsor side events and ultimately propose a resolution to begin negotiations on new international legal regulation in 2024. We had positive meetings with the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in Sofia in August 2023 on this issue.

Through the Sustainable Development Goals and the related Incheon Framework for Action, all countries have committed to making at least one year of pre-primary education free and compulsory and all secondary education free by 2030. We also note that more than 100 countries already guarantee at least one year of free pre-primary education through domestic law, and at least 116 countries guarantee 11 or more years of free education, providing a solid foundation for stronger international standards.

We also want to highlight the significant developments supporting the creation of a stronger international right to education, including:

*an open letter led by Malala Yousufzai and Vanessa Nakate ahead of the 2022 Transforming Education Summit, signed by more than 500,000 people worldwide, calling on world leaders to support a new global treaty on the right to education;
* the recommendation of the then Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kumba Bholi Berry, for a new binding international legal framework to affirm the right to pre-primary education;
* the Tashkent Declaration and Commitment to Action, which called for the exploration of a new legal instrument on early childhood education;
* support from dozens of international experts for a new optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would explicitly guarantee the right to free secondary education and at least one year of free and compulsory preschool education.

We firmly believe that a stronger international right to free education can accelerate global progress and help millions of children gain access to the right to education, from pre-school to secondary. We look forward to working with your Permanent Mission in Geneva and offer our full support.

Thank you for your attention!



Campaña Latinoamericana por el Derecho a la Educación (CLADE) Global Campaign for Education

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Gi-ESCR) International Council of Women

International Step by Step Association

Junneuf Peace Centre

Human Rights Watch

Make Mothers Matter

Trust for Social Achievement

World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP)

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