42. Memorandum from Office
of Children's Rights Commissioner for London
1.1 The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner
for London is a fixed-term project demonstrating the value of
a Children's Rights Commissioner for all children. Its purpose
is to promote and protect the rights of London's 1.74 million
children as described in the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child, and to ensure that children's interests and views are taken
into account in decision-making processes that affect them.
1.2 Although there have been some recent
advances in developing a culture that values and respects children,
the majority of London children still experience breaches of their
1.3 An independent human rights institution
working for childrenspecifically a Children's Rights Commissionerwould
play a unique role in the promotion and protection of children's
human rights. Such a role could not be performed by an existing
organisation or agency due to the necessary combination of governmental
power and independence.
1.4 A Children's Rights Commissioner could
either be incorporated within a universal Human Rights Commission,
or could be established separately. There are several advantages
and disadvantages to each model, however the debate is less about
the model and more about the powers, resources, duties and design
necessary in a human rights institution aiming to work for children.
There is a description of the types of arrangements needed within
the full text of this response.
1.5 The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner
is in favour of the establishment of a national Human Rights Commission
that includes the necessary specific provision for children, and
believes such a move would significantly advance children's position
and ability to participate in society.
2.1 The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner
for London welcomes the inquiry into the establishment of a Human
Rights Commission. As an organisation working to promote children's
human rights, in particular to politicians, civil servants and
other decision-makers responsible for safeguarding their interests,
we are well placed to comment on this subject.
2.2 The primary aim of the Office is to
ensure the protection and promotion of children's human rights
in London. Our response is written with that priority in mind.
3. THE OFFICE
3.1 The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner
for London was established in March 2000 with the purpose of demonstrating
the value of an independent Children's Rights Commissioner. It
is funded by a substantial grant from the National Lottery Charities
Board, with support from the major children's organisations including
The Children's Society, Save the Children (UK) and the NSPCC,
and further funding from Bridge House Estates Trust Fund and the
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
3.2 The aims of the Office are to develop
London as an exemplary child friendly city and promote implementation
of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. It demonstrates
how a Children's Rights Commissioner would work in practice, and
makes the case for the establishment of a statutory Commissioner
to promote the rights of all children in England.
3.3 The Office has a particular focus on
promoting the rights of socially excluded and marginalised children
and young people in London, who experience some of the highest
levels of disadvantage in the UK.
3.4 The Office works jointly with children
and young people and seeks to achieve their participation in all
areas of its work. An Advisory Board of 12 young people participates
in the management of the Office.
3.5 The Office aims to work in partnership
with central and local government, with other statutory bodies
and with voluntary organisations concerned with children's issues.
3.6 Key activities of the Office include
producing the State of London's Children report, co-ordinating
an alliance of organisations of and for London children, and undertaking
specific projects in relation to London children's human rights.
The Office is also working in partnership with the Greater London
Authority to develop the first London Children's Strategy.
4.1 Nearly a decade after the UK ratified
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child there are some encouraging
signs that the political climate is becoming more favourable towards
children and their rights. For example the recent establishment
of the Children & Young People's Unit has helped to increase
the visibility of children in government and included a commitment
to cross-departmental and inter-agency working, the new Human
Rights Act could have far-reaching effects in strengthening the
rights of all young citizens, and there is a growing requirement
in local government to consult children and young people in the
delivery of services or when making decisions that affect them.
Meanwhile Wales has taken concrete steps towards protecting the
rights of its youngest citizens by establishing a Children's Rights
Commissioner, an option that is also under serious consideration
in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
4.2 Despite these developments there is
no room for complacency and London's 1.74 million children continue
to face multiple breaches of their human rights. For example,
they are more likely to experience poverty than children in any
other region of England1, London has more children in total on
the child protection register than any other region2, there is
considerable evidence to suggest that the right to play and free
time under Article 31 of the UNCRC is not being adequately met
for large numbers of London's children3, and rates of school exclusion
are notably higher in London than in England as a whole4. Furthermore
the city is home to large numbers of child refugees and asylum
seekers, runaways and homeless children, disabled children, children
who are "looked after", teenage mothers, young carers
and other disadvantaged and marginalised groups who need particular
assistance in claiming their rights. Finally London children,
like those elsewhere, rarely know about their rights, have little
if any political voice and generally are not consulted in decisions
that affect them.
5. HOW WOULD
5.1 The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner
believes an independent human rights institution working for childrenspecifically
a Children's Rights Commissionerwould play a unique role
in ensuring that children's rights are realised. It could perform
a range of activities including raising the status of children
and acting as their watchdog in government, ensuring compliance
with national and international human rights legislation, influencing
policy and practice in children's favour, conducting investigations,
collecting information and carrying out research, reviewing and
improving children's complaints procedures and increasing knowledge
and understanding of children's rights among children and society
as a whole.
5.2 Due to the necessary combination of
governmental power and independence this role cannot be performed
by any of the existing organisations or agencies that currently
work to promote children's interests. For this reason a Children's
Rights Commissioner must be established in order to promote a
culture that respects and values children.
6. WHICH MODEL
6.1 It is clear that children need an independent,
statutory Children's Rights Commissioner to promote and protect
their rights, however it is less clear what this should look like.
The first model is a Human Rights Commission within which there
is based a Children's Rights Commissioner. The second is a separate
Children's Rights Commissioner with formal links to a Human Rights
There are several advantages and disadvantages
to both models.
6.2 The advantages of a separate Children's
Rights Commissioner are that they would have a clear and single-minded
focus on children's human rights and could accord children the
priority they deserve, both of which would be some compensation
for children's lack of political power. They would also be a clearly
identifiable, high profile individual to whom children could easily
relate and therefore could be directly in touch with children's
views. They could also take on functions specific to children,
for example relating to child protection, that other general human
rights institutions might not include in their remit. Finally,
a separate institution would guarantee a distinct budget devoted
6.3 The disadvantages of a separate Children's
Rights Commissioner are that it could place children outside mainstream
human rights advocacy and mean that opportunities for joint working
on crosscutting themes are missed or made more difficult. A separate
Children's Rights Commissioner also risks marginalisation of children's
human rights and lower status or fewer powers than if included
within a Human Rights Commission, which could in turn result in
a lack of adequate resources. Finally, it might present obstacles
to the promotion of human rights as the universal property of
all citizens including children.
6.4 The advantages of integrating a Children's
Rights Commissioner within a national Human Rights Commission
are that it would help to ensure children's rights are included
within mainstream human rights promotion, and would facilitate
joint working with other commissioners on crosscutting issues.
Where there are not adequate resources to fund separate offices
a Children's Rights Commissioner within a Human Rights Commission
could use the resources of the whole institution, but still provide
an identifiable individual for children to relate to.
6.5 The disadvantages of integrating a Children's
Rights Commissioner within a national Human Rights Commission
are that it risks children's issues getting lost in adult's agendas,
and the possibility that where conflict arises between the rights
of adults and children the Children's Rights Commissioner might
be less able to advocate powerfully from the child's perspective.
Furthermore children may not easily identify with or use an institution
that has been primarily designed with adults in mind. Finally,
the scope of a Human Rights Commission may not be broad enough
to include the many children's rights issues that do not simply
concern the individual and the state, for example in the family
or in schools.
7. WHAT CAN
7.1 The devolved governments of Northern
Ireland, Wales and Scotland have all quickly established human
rights bodies to protect the rights of their citizens. Wales is
the first nation in the UK to appoint a Children's Rights Commissioner,
a move that received all-party backing in the Welsh Assembly and
widespread support among voluntary organisations, the public and
children in Wales. With a £700,000 annual budget and 21 staff
the Commissioner will serve a seven year term. The Commissioner
has primary responsibility for safeguarding and promoting children's
rights and welfare and can make representations to, and review
the performance of the National Assembly for Wales in this respect.
The bill establishing the Commissioner encompassed all devolved
areas such as health, education, the environment and transport
and was amended to cover any matter relating to the rights and
welfare of Welsh children.
7.2 Although it is a universal human rights
institution the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission clearly
also has responsibility for children's rights. The Commission
is currently preparing its response to a consultation being carried
out by the Northern Ireland Assembly on the establishment of a
separate Children's Rights Commissioner. Although it is not yet
the formal position of the Commission, in discussion it has given
its support for the move and the development of a "memorandum
of understanding" to facilitate joint working between the
two separate institutions.
7.3 The Scottish Parliament is also soon
to bring an inquiry into the establishment of a Children's Rights
Commissioner, a move which has widespread support among voluntary
and local government organisations, and Members of the Scottish
7.4 Human Rights Commissions and Children's
Rights Commissioners have long been in existence in European countries,
and have developed using many different models. Austria, Belgium,
Denmark, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Madrid
and Catalonia in Spain have chosen to establish independent offices
to specifically promote children's human rights. Meanwhile Hungary,
Portugal, Spain and the Ukraine have children's offices within
national human rights institutions.
7.5 Current experience in some European
countries might lead us to assume that children's interests are
better served by a separate Children's Rights Commissioner, however
this is in the absence of a full exploration of how an integrated
Commission might be designed to effectively promote and protect
children's rights. Furthermore, there are positive models of integrated
Commissions working effectively on children's behalf. For example
there is a Child Rights Centre within the Philippine Commission
on Human Rights, and the Australian Human Rights & Equal Opportunity
Commission has undertaken specific work in relation to children's
7.6 Therefore the debate is less about whether
a separate or integrated Children's Rights Commissioner is best,
but rather about what powers, duties and design an institution
should have in order to best serve the interests of children.
8. MAKING A
8.1 If a Human Rights Commission for the
UK is established the following would be essential in order to
ensure that it served the interests of children:
The design and development of the
Commission must take full account of the special status of children.
The legislation establishing the
Commission must be specifically linked to the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child.
The legislation must include provisions
setting out special functions, powers and duties relating to children,
linked to the Convention. For example:
The duty to pay particular regard
to the views and feelings of children and to take active steps
to maintain direct contact with children.
Power to have regard to the situation
of children in the family, in schools and institutions.
Power to consider the promotion and
protection of children's rights in relation not only to government
but also private bodies.
The right to have access to children
in all forms of alternative care and all institutions which include
The right to report separately on
the state of children's human rights.
There is an identifiable Children's
Rights Commissioner for each country, ie someone who will bring
high status and public and political respect to the office, will
have a high public profile and thereby enhance the visibility
of children, and also be popular and in direct contact with children.
There is appropriate staffing dedicated
to the promotion and protection of children's rights, a ring-fenced
minimum budget allocated in relation to the percentage of the
population, and the potential to attract and use funding from
sources other than government.
9. IN CONCLUSION
9.1 The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner
for London believes children's unique position in society means
that they need an independent, powerful, statutory Children's
Rights Commissioner to protect and promote their rights. Whether
this Commissioner is separate from a national Human Rights Commission
or incorporated into one is less important than the powers, design,
resources and duties that the Commissioner may have. Therefore
the Office of Children's Rights Commissioner is in favour of the
establishment of a national Human Rights Commission that includes
specific provision for children in the ways described above.
1 DSS, Households Below Average Income,
1994-95 to 1998-99.
2 Department of Health: Children on Child
Protection Registers, 1999-2000.
3 O'Brien 2000 b; Howarth 1997; Munoz 1998.
4 Statistics of Education: Permanent
Exclusions from maintained schools in England, November 2000.