OMEP Australia is the Australian arm of the Organisation Mondiale pour l’Education Prescolaire (OMEP) or the World Organisation for Early Childhood Education.
The organisation was founded in 1948 in post-war France to benefit children under the age of eight worldwide. It is dedicated to enhancing all areas of children’s well-being, growth, and development from health, education, and welfare perspectives.
OMEP worked with UNICEF to develop the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is the only early childhood organisation that has ‘consultative status’ to the UN.
As a wholly independent organisation receiving no government funding, OMEP has the privilege of having a seat at the table for UNESCO to advocate for children. It did so at a recent UNESCO meeting in New York, expressing concern about the crisis in Ukraine and its devastating impact on families and children, the full extent of which is becoming increasingly apparent as Ukrainian forces retake parts of Ukraine invaded by the Russian army.
OMEP Australia received an email from the OMEP Ukraine president, who stated that children would need help when they return home. She said that many services are destroyed, children and families are displaced, and they have no resources. She indicated that right now, there is little the rest of the world can do to help Ukraine’s children but asked that we be ready to help. OMEP Australia will play a role in doing just that when the time is right.
Advocating a Decade for Early Education and celebrating a diamond jubilee — there's a lot on the agenda for OMEP
OMEP Australia is currently working with other OMEP Country organisations on updating General Comment 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to enshrine children’s right to access high-quality early education and care. In addition, it recently wrote to the Prime Minister calling for universal access for all Australian children during the first waves of COVID-19.
OMEP Australia is connected to similar region-based OMEPs across the globe, who all work in different priority areas. For example, in Africa, there is a focus on playgroups as a vehicle for supporting children’s learning and well-being, and in Europe, a focus on sustainability. In addition, there is a worldwide project around children’s access to clean water, which, even in Australia, is not assured in some parts.
OMEP is also lobbying UNESCO to make the next UNESCO decade the Decade for Early Education, which would help shine a light on its importance on the national and international stage.
In 2023, OMEP will celebrate its 75th anniversary – its diamond jubilee.
Why OMEP is important for Australian children
Early childhood educators will be very familiar with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted in 1989 (and should be seen as a ‘child’ of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which was created in the aftermath of World War II).
Much of what is written in the Convention on the Rights of the Child describes rights that most of us in Australia would take for granted, such as that our governments must take measures to prevent the abduction, sale, and trafficking of children or to prevent children being economically exploited by participating in forced unpaid or low paid labour.
However, many items within the Convention are still challenging for Australia to implement or are areas where further work is required.
For example, Article 7 states:
The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality, and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
While the above is the case for most Australian children, CELA has heard anecdotally that some families do not register their child’s birth. This can be the case, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who may have experienced the trauma of having their children taken from them, as described in the report “Bringing them home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families”.1 Enshrining such a right in the context of sustained and well-deserved distrust in Government and intergenerational grief is complex. It has flow-on effects in terms of how effectively Government can support children if they don’t know they exist.
Article 18.2 states that:
For the purpose of guaranteeing and promoting the rights set forth in the present Convention, States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities, and services for the care of children.
Article 18.3 states that:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have the right to benefit from childcare services and facilities for which they are eligible.
Recent research from the Mitchell Institute shows that 35.2 per cent of Australians live in ‘childcare deserts2’ and cannot access early education and care. This suggests that further work needs to be completed here in Australia if we are to truly succeed in ensuring every Australian child’s rights are upheld.
We all play a part in ensuring every child's rights are upheld
It was the view of Jeremy Bentham, one of Australia's early philosophers and political reformers, that there is no such thing as natural or divinely given rights; he argued instead that rights are created by law; that without government and law, there are no rights3. Through our role as voters and citizens involved in advocacy organisations, early childhood educators and parents influence the government to uphold the universal rights of children and all humans.
How you can get involved by joining OMEP
OMEP Australia is welcoming members who share the organisation’s interest in upholding children’s rights.
As the only early childhood organisation that receives no government funding and has consultative status to the UN, OMEP is vital for advancing children’s rights. Furthermore, with connections globally to 70 countries worldwide, it can provide opportunities to leverage international research to strengthen outcomes for children back in Australia, including the possibility for international exchanges.
Organisations can join for $100. If your education and care service would like to join, contact OMEP here. Stay tuned for their conference in 2023.
While CELA does not have the international focus of OMEP, much of our work aligns very much with OMEP, and we are proactively influencing Government to advance children’s rights here in Australia.
Our 6 Point Plan for Education and Care, a joint submission from CELA and like-minded peaks CCC and ELAA, calls for all children to access two fully funded days of education and care per week. In addition, it outlines solutions to ensure education and care is high quality, such as securing a minimum of 3 years between regulatory visits for education and care services and improving the wages and conditions for those working in the sector. Read it here.
1. Australian Government Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1997) “Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families.”
2. Hurley, P., Matthews, H., & Pennicuik, S. (March 2022), “Deserts and Oases: How accessible is childcare in Australia?” Mitchell Institute, Victoria University, page 4
3 Judith Brett, (2019) “From secret ballot to democracy sausage: how Australia got compulsory voting” Text Publishing, Melbourne, page 6