What is privatisation?
Privatisation can happen in various ways but can essentially be defined as “the transfer of assets, management, functions or responsibilities previously owned or carried out by the State to private actors".*
Why is it a children’s rights issue?
Privatisation of children’s services is being promoted as part of development aid and the private sector’s funding of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Disguised as philanthropy or aid, this may not appear damaging, but if those who work with children are beholden to the interests of a company, who then acts as children's advocate?
While it is increasingly common for States to deliver services through, or in partnership with, the private sector, the manner of delivery of rights does not alter their content or decrease the obligations of the State. Read more in this guide to the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s general comment on business and children’s rights.
Privatisation of education may be seen as a way to fill gaps in the provision of education. But this should be a genuine choice. There are different ways privatisation can happen. But the growth of low cost private schooling at the expense of state education in particular is jeopardising the availability, accessibility and quality of free education, entrenching inequality.
While education involving private actors in education is growing, government financing for public education is decreasing. Many States are encouraging the growth of private actors’ involvement, abdicating their responsibility and failing to regulate and monitor these institutions and hold them to minimum standards (see CRC GC on business).
Furthermore, governments in developed countries like the UK are supporting the growth of low cost private schooling through their development aid (e.g. to Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Pakistan). This runs counter to their extraterritorial obligations to safeguard human rights worldwide e.g. CRC art 4. Read more here (paras 14 and 15).
Some States are resisting this trend. In November Uganda’s High Court ordered the closure of 63 Bridge International Academies, ruling that the schools were not properly licensed, and had been using unsanitary and inadequate facilities and unqualified teachers.
Violations of children’s rights in privately run children’s detention centres have caused outrage. But apart from their treatment of children, the very fact that they are profiting from their detention means there is an incentive to lock up more children - and keep them locked up. Read about, for example, the “Kids for Cash” scandal in the United States in which judges accepted bribes to send children to particular detention centres.
*Coomans & Hallo de Wolf, 'Privatisation of Education and the Right to Education' in de Feyter & Gomez (eds.), January 2005.
Find resources dedicated to debating this issue below.
- CRC General Comment No. 16 on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children’s rights
- CRIN and the International Commission of Jurists, Guide to the CRC’s General Comment on Business and Children’s Rights, December 2015
- International Commission of Jurists and UNICEF, A practical guide for States on how to implement the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment no. 16, 2015
- CRIN’s submission to the draft general comment of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, January 2017
- Right to Education Project, Issue page on privatisation
- Privatisation in Education Research Initiative: http://www.periglobal.org/
- The UK’s support of the growth of private actors in education through it development aid: Questioning its responsibilities as regards its human rights extra-territorial obligations
- Global Campaign for Education, issue page on privatisation
- Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education on Privatisation