President Ma Ying-jeou met on the afternoon of March 6 with Ms. Mary Shuttleworth, founder and president of Youth for Human Rights International. During the meeting, the president remarked that Ms. Shuttleworth has generously shared her valuable experience with Taiwan in promoting human rights for youth around the world, adding that this has greatly helped Taiwan in promoting human rights work here.
The president stated that he strongly supports the "literacy as freedom" idea that Ms. Shuttleworth has advocated since 2004, and pointed out that Taiwan began to institute nine-year compulsory education in 1968. Taiwan's literacy rate was once under 50%, but by 2010 had risen to 98.04%. In addition, 12-year public education will be introduced starting in 2014, he said. Public education is not compulsory beyond junior high school, but high school students will no longer need to pay tuition, and 75% of junior high schoolers will be able to move to the next level of schooling without having to take an entrance exam. The president mentioned that the proportion of students able to enter senior high school without having to take the entrance exam will start to rise this year, which constitutes an important milestone in the history of education here.
Noting that the United Nations (UN) passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, President Ma stated that even though the ROC lost its representation at the UN in 1971 and has been unable to join this convention, it has still incorporated the spirit of the convention into domestic law by passing the Children and Youth Welfare Act. The intent is to bring the welfare provided to the children and youth of Taiwan up to international standards. The president pointed out that the ROC is unable to take part in most UN activities, but the ROC has acted to incorporate the content of many human rights conventions into domestic law. While Taiwan is not formally a party state to these international conventions, the content of these documents still is legally binding here as a result.
President Ma also mentioned that three years ago he signed the instruments of ratification for two human rights covenants passed by the UN in 1966, and as of last year, 70% of Taiwan's laws that touch on human rights have been amended to reflect the content of the two covenants. Where local laws or regulations have yet to be amended and contravene the covenants, the content of the two covenants take precedence. In addition, the Office of the President has established the Human Rights Consultative Committee, which this year will produce the government's first official human rights report. The format of the report will be entirely according to international requirements. It is hoped that this will raise human rights in Taiwan to the level of the international community.
Ms. Shuttleworth was accompanied to the Presidential Office by Deputy Minister of the Interior Tseng Chung-ming (曾中明) and Deputy Minister of Education Wu Tsai-shung (吳財順) to meet President Ma. Also attending the meeting was National Security Council Advisor Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦).