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c) General Comment No. 11: Plans of action for primary education (article 14) (1999)
(Adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the Twentieth Session, E/C.12/1999/4, 10 May 1999)

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3. In line with its clear and unequivocal obligation under article 14, every State party is under a duty to present to the Committee a plan of action drawn up along the lines specified in paragraph 8 below. This obligation needs to be scrupulously observed in view of the fact that in developing countries, 130 million children of school age are currently estimated to be without access to primary education, of whom about two thirds are girls. [1] The Committee is fully aware that many diverse factors have made it difficult for States parties to fulfil their obligation to provide a plan of action. For example, the structural adjustment programmes that began in the 1970s, the debt crises that followed in the 1980s and the financial crises of the late 1990s, as well as other factors, have greatly exacerbated the extent to which the right to primary education is being denied. These difficulties, however, cannot relieve States parties of their obligation to adopt and submit a plan of action to the Committee, as provided for in article 14 of the Covenant.

4. Plans of action prepared by States parties to the Covenant in accordance with article 14 are especially important as the work of the Committee has shown that the lack of educational opportunities for children often reinforces their subjection to various other human rights violations. For instance these children, who may live in abject poverty and not lead healthy lives, are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and other forms of exploitation. Moreover, there is a direct correlation between, for example, primary school enrolment levels for girls and major reductions in child marriages.

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6. Compulsory. The element of compulsion serves to highlight the fact that neither parents, nor guardians, nor the State are entitled to treat as optional the decision as to whether the child should have access to primary education. Similarly, the prohibition of gender discrimination in access to education, required also by articles 2 and 3 of the Covenant, is further underlined by this requirement. It should be emphasized, however, that the education offered must be adequate in quality, relevant to the child and must promote the realization of the child's other rights.

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9. Obligations. A State party cannot escape the unequivocal obligation to adopt a plan of action on the grounds that the necessary resources are not available. If the obligation could be avoided in this way, there would be no justification for the unique requirement contained in article 14 which applies, almost by definition, to situations characterized by inadequate financial resources. By the same token, and for the same reason, the reference to “international assistance and cooperation” in article 2.1 and to “international action” in article 23 of the Covenant are of particular relevance in this situation. Where a State party is clearly lacking in the financial resources and/or expertise required to “work out and adopt” a detailed plan, the international community has a clear obligation to assist.

10. Progressive implementation. The plan of action must be aimed at securing the progressive implementation of the right to compulsory primary education, free of charge, under article 14. Unlike the provision in article 2.1, however, article 14 specifies that the target date must be “within a reasonable number of years” and moreover, that the time-frame must “be fixed in the plan”. In other words, the plan must specifically set out a series of targeted implementation dates for each stage of the progressive implementation of the plan. This underscores both the importance and the relative inflexibility of the obligation in question. Moreover, it needs to be stressed in this regard that the State party's other obligations, such as non-discrimination, are required to be implemented fully and immediately.

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[1]  See generally UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 1999