The Review of Legal Protection Indicators in Early Childhood

Early child development and human rights theories have come a long way from conceptualizing young children as being “in a state of immaturity characterized by irrationality, incompetence, weakness, naivety, and innocence” (Lansdown, 2005) to understanding the child as an autonomous human being (not one becoming human) valued for and of her/his agency and as bearer of normative human rights with evolving capacities to exercise their rights and responsibilities. However, the change in acknowledgement of “the extent to which children have agency to influence their own lives and development, and can make an active contribution to their social environments” (Lansdown, 2005) is slow and requires a paradigm change in both fields. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as a universally accepted international law, provides a unique and universal legal framework which acknowledges children as subjects of legal rights. The CRC defines the legal criteria for the development of the young child together with legal obligations of individuals, parents, communities and governments to introduce the necessary measures to ensure the realization of those legal rights.

In almost all countries, ratification of the CRC has been followed up with policies, legislation, services, resources and administrative reform consistent with the legal rights it embodies. However, although significant steps have been taken, the full realization of those rights is far from being a reality. In order to facilitate better realization of young child’s legal rights, there needs to be a consistent monitoring system with clear markers to indicate progress and achievement of legal obligations. Both early child development professionals and human rights practitioners acknowledge this need.

Therefore, there has been growing awareness in recent years that the development of indicators is central to developing the capacity for monitoring human rights that provide legal protection for children of all ages and adults alike, as well as evaluating the performance of countries in implementing these rights. A surge of activities around indicators by the United Nations and its specialized agencies, NGOs and academic circles testifies to this awareness.

Legal documents such as the CRC are not the only documents of commitment to which countries are signed up. For instance, Education for All (EFA) is a global political commitment agreed at the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000 by 164 governments. Subsequently, through the Dakar Framework of Action (DFA) participating governments made a political commitment to six jointly identified goals for achieving available, accessible, acceptable, adaptable, and quality basic education for all children, youth and adults. These political commitments in the form of EFA goals serve as ultimate benchmarks to be met by 2015 as well: 100% population educated by 2015. This ambitious goal of education for “all” and its sub-goals that governments pledged to uphold too have to be monitored through a set of clear questions to indicate if there is any movement towards desired change (indicators) and tiered enumerated goals (benchmarks) to be reached so that progress can be visibly tracked to show if political commitments and pledges are honoured by governments.

The DFA identified systematic and effective monitoring of progress towards the EFA goals as one of the 12 key strategies for achieving EFA goals. This key strategy applies to all EFA goals including EFA goal 1 (hereinafter EFA-G1) on early childhood care and education. This key strategy was reiterated in the World Conference on Early Childhood Care and Education (WCECCE) in the Moscow and its subsequent Moscow Framework of Action in the form of adecision to “establish a working group to explore the development of an instrument capable of tracking progress towards EFA goal 1, with particular attention to quality and the holistic aspects of ECCE” (UNESCO, 2010a:5).