Is enough being done to protect children’s rights in the UK?

Posted by Guest blogger / Tuesday 10 December 2013 / Children's rights
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Guest post from Paola Uccellari, Director of Children's Rights Alliance England.

More than 20 years ago, when the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it agreed to make sure children enjoy their rights. Today is Human Rights Day and is a good time for us to think about whether this has happened in practice.

Children’s human rights include:

  • the basic things they need to live - food, shelter, a minimum standard of living
  • the minimum standards of treatment they can expect – not to be killed, abused, or enslaved 
  • the things they need to live a worthwhile life – the right to think, to play, to express themselves.

In January, the UK Government has to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on how it has fared in making rights real for children. In our view, the picture is not good. Too many children are still falling through the human rights safety net that is designed to protect all of us in our everyday lives.

Our 11th annual State of Children’s Rights in England report reveals that of the 118 areas in which the UN told the Government to do more to protect children’s rights, things have become worse or remain unchanged in 88.

The areas where we have seen improvement have been isolated to those in which Government has taken a particular interest, or faced particular exposure. This has mainly been in relation to children’s rights to family life – to be cared for when they can’t live with their parents, and to be protected against abuse.

Deterioration in other areas calls into question the Government’s commitment to improving children’s rights across the board.

Many of the areas in which things are getting worse – welfare and tax reforms which are making it increasingly difficult for families to cope, rising child poverty and health inequalities – the Government would explain by reference to the economic climate. And while we might question this explanation – as perhaps indicating skewed priorities - we at least accept that there is a difficult economic climate, and a debate to be had about how to respond to it.

It is those areas which are less easy to explain away which really illustrate the Government’s attitude to children’s rights.

The Government cannot be complying with its commitment to have regard to children’s rights when it comes out with policies such as the Immigration Bill and the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and when it oversees a huge increase in the use of restraint and tasers on children. These policies and practices simply fly in the face of children’s rights - suggesting that the Government is picking and choosing those issues it will address, and not seeing them as rights issues at all.

A further sign that there is a lack of real commitment to children’s rights is the weakening of the mechanisms that should be available to help when things go wrong – such as access to the courts – by reforms to legal aid and judicial review.

The Government will have free reign to let things slide, without being held to account.
Five years ago, the UN criticised the UK’s record on children’s rights. When it faces the UN again soon, the Government will have difficulty explaining why it has moved backwards on so many of these issues.

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