Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 244 - 259)




  244. Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to this meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I am sure you are all aware that the Committee is currently enquiring into whether we should have a Human Rights Commissioner and we have been looking at human rights in the context of different groups of the population. We have been told by professionals who work with children that, in considering whether there should be a Human Rights Commission, there is at least the need for a Children's Rights Commissioner. Given one of our international obligations to hear the voices of children, we thought it would be very useful for us to hear directly from children today about human rights and how they see human rights. We are very grateful to the Children's Rights Alliance of England for helping us today to get these children to come along. We are very grateful to them for appearing before us today. I want to make it absolutely clear to everybody that we are not in any way being tokenistic about having these children here. We want to hear directly from them about their experiences and their views. Diana, can you tell us what kinds of discrimination and human rights problems children and young people experience?

  (Diana Savickaja) Sometimes in shops shopkeepers might see that you are a child. When you get out of the shop, the shopkeeper might want to check your pockets. In schools and clubs children might get picked on because of their race or culture. They might tell you some expressions like, "Get plastic surgery and stay away from me." Sometimes, if you are a Muslim and you wear a scarf you might get people pulling it off your head. Sometimes Muslims get picked on because of what happened on 11 September and they say that Muslims are related to Bin Laden. Sometimes people get bullied because they do not have a lot of money, new toys or designer clothing. Sometimes it is hard for older children to pay for the bus as a child fee because bus drivers think you are old enough to pay an adult fee. There is discrimination against black kids, thinking they might do crack. Some people pick on you and your family by saying rude things about them. People get discriminated against if they are asylum seekers or refugees, especially asylum seekers because they cannot travel because the Home Office has got their passport. People get bullied on what they wear, how they look, what they bring to school and what countries they come from. Basically, you get picked on for what you have and have not got.

  245. You have seen some of these things happen, have you?
  (Diana Savickaja) Yes.

Mr Woodward

  246. Diana, you talked a lot about bullying. As well as helping the people on this Committee, I am involved in a charity called Child Line that you might know a bit about, which has done a lot about bullying. Some people think that maybe schools can sort out bullying on their own and maybe we do not need anything more and schools should get better at it. Do you have any ideas about why we need to do more to stop bullying? Do you think bullying is a big problem?
  (Diana Savickaja) Bullying is a big problem. Lots of people get bullied at our school.

  247. Are schools good at stopping it?
  (Diana Savickaja) They tell you off and just carry on. The people do it again and nothing happens.

  248. Do any of the others have views about bullying?
  (James Sweeney) In the local area I reside in there are two young girls who have died, committed suicide, in the last two months, who go to the same school and they are in the same class. Local residents suspect that that is bullying. The school are not taking any responsibility. They are not even considering that it is bullying. Local residents think there should be an investigation but nothing has come about yet.

  249. One of the things that gets said about bullying is that the government has done enough because it has told schools they have to have a bullying policy and all schools now have one. The problem we have found at Child Line is that telling a school to have a policy is not the same as making a culture in a school in which people think bullying is wrong and it should not happen. How do you think a Human Rights Commission could help us get that culture there?
  (James Sweeney) Obviously, through schools putting different policies in place. From my experience, that does not work. You have to liaise with the person who is bullying and get them to come to terms and make them feel guilty, the same as you would with an adult.
  (Gbemi Sodimu) Some people in schools think that if you exclude the bully that will work. Most of the time that does not work. Some bullies like being excluded from school so the bullying will just carry on. It is not always in schools that bullying happens. Sometimes bullying happens outside schools and schools will not do anything about that, even though it started inside the school. A Children's Commissioner would help because they could get into contact with the children and help them.

Mr McNamara

  250. Diana, you said adults do not do a great deal. What happens in your school if somebody says they are being bullied to a teacher or if teachers, without being complained to, see bullying take place?
  (Diana Savickaja) You just get told off or, if it is really bad, you get your parents called in and sometimes you get suspended but it does not help because when they come back they just carry on.

Norman Baker

  251. Fred, how do you think children and young people in this country get information about their rights and what can they do if they feel their rights are not respected?
  (Fred Tyson Brown) Children and young people should have many resources and places to hear and learn about their human rights but from my experience we do not hear about them much at all. I have been in school for a decade and I have only ever had one lesson on the subject. This did not explain that we have rights; only that some countries break them. That was when I was in year eight. Over the past two years, I have had to compile my own research into human rights. I only did this because I was encouraged by my father to learn about a lot of the trouble for teachers in schools. Where I live, there are three youth clubs and they occasionally get some information but it is limited. The information they get is usually just leaflets from non-government organisations who deal with children's rights. These have been interesting and useful but people are generally not interested because they do not get the basic education on rights. If there was education on human rights, I feel that a lot more children and young people would feel more encouraged to take an active part in promoting human rights and children's rights in particular. All schools should really have information on human rights and there should be substantive teaching about it in the national curriculum, but there is not, in my experience. It should be covered in our personal education and religious education lessons but it is not. We only ever learn about misuse of drugs, sexually transmitted infections and things like that. These things they go over and over again; they never teach you about anything else. We never learn about our rights, other people's rights and the working of government. By introducing a Children's Rights Commissioner, he or she would make sure that we and our parents would know about our human rights. This is what Article 42 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says. The Commissioner's whole aim is to make sure that the government is keeping to the Convention which our government signed ten years ago. In answer to the second question, where do children and young people go if there are problems, children and young people have a small number of places to go if they do have problems. These include charities such as the NSPCC, Barnardo's and the Children's Society. The list goes on. There are also many telephone support lines such as ChildLine. The main problem with all of these is that they do not have much legal power to change things. Some charities have some power but not very much influence on the government. There is a big lack of funding. This lack of funding stretches into many organisations. The big problem is that you need to train staff to work with children and young people who understand the European Convention and treat us with respect. Training these people costs a lot of money and takes quite a long time. This happened in the group that I am a member of, Right Here, Right Now. We had four training weekends in Leicester. It was worth it but it cost a lot and it took a whole lot of time. In joining these non-governmental organisations, you might not get very far due to lack of funding. Another problem is that children and young people cannot get solicitors easily. This morning, I met a children's lawyer. I never knew this existed before now. This again shows the lack of information for children in this country. Many children of particular groups, cultures and religions are being ignored and dismissed by the government. Refugee children particularly have big problems with their rights. This government seems to think they do not have rights but they have all the rights that I have. Refugee children have difficulty getting services and many of them are picked on by their peers. They are also getting dreadful treatment in this country. This is shown by, in my view, the racist remarks of David Blunkett on the subject of swamping. This shows the extent of how this government does not respect children and young people. By introducing a Children's Rights Commissioner, he or she would set up offices all over the country. Children and young people would be able to drop into these offices and say if there were problems and things that needed to happen. These offices would report back to the Commissioner and the Commissioner would have the power to tell the government that this or that needed doing. He or she would be a large influence on how the government was working to support children and young people. Children and young people would also be able to drop into the offices to have their say. The offices would make sure that children and young people were part of the whole democratic process or the decision making that the government does regarding children's rights. This comes back to Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that says that all children and young people should be part of any decisions made that affect them. This shows that by bringing a Children's Rights Commissioner into this country children and young people would have a place to go if there were problems and the problems would ultimately be resolved.

  252. Thank you for a very detailed, clear answer and for some very interesting points. You say you have done some research. Can I ask why you feel, from your research, that there is so little information available to children and young people? Why is it that you have only found this out yourself and it is not available in schools? What do you think the reason for that is? Secondly, what is the biggest change you think should take place to improve matters, apart from the appointment of a Commissioner?
  (Fred Tyson Brown) Firstly, I think schools do not do much. I am not sure if it is schools or the government but we do not get any leaflets, information or people saying, "This has come out" or stuff like that. They could do so much more to give us information like things in libraries. I have looked a lot in our school library and there is not a lot about politics and human rights. I found a few books on certain political parties and political systems but nothing about the rights of the child. There was about one book on human rights which was about 15 years old. I think it is a pretty poor show if that kind of thing is happening.

  253. It is a lack of respect for young people?
  (Fred Tyson Brown) Yes. It shows that the government is not bothering about it. It is such a short part of our lives, it feels as though they are overlooking it as something that they do not concentrate on too much, but it is when we are most influenced. It is when we are going to learn things. It is when adults today have most influence on us to create a better adult for future society.

Vera Baird

  254. Could I ask if you have a school council in your school and whether in your area you have anything like a youth forum? In one of the areas near to where I live, there is a shadow council. The local authority which has elected members is shadowed by young people who are also elected, who can pretend that they are making decisions, their views are noted and they are involved in decisions. Is there anything like that going on around your way?
  (Fred Tyson Brown) Not at all. The council seem to build a skate board ramp or a youth club and leave it at that. In the school, I think there is a council but I never hear about it. There is definitely a lack of communication between these groups and children and young people.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

  255. James, do you think the government, Parliament, the courts, local authority areas like schools, hospitals and social services, environment and planning agencies, take children's rights into account when they make laws and regulations and carry out their work?
  (James Sweeney) First of all, I would like to talk about children and young people in care. Care leavers are entitled to £42 per week. That has to pay for gas, electricity, food, water, TV licence and recreational activities, travelling expenses, toiletries, in-house decorations, gifts for occasions. The list goes on. Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that state parties recognise the right of every child to a good standard of living, adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. How can anyone maintain a good or decent standard of living on £42 per week? If you are training, you are entitled to £57 per week but what if that young person is having problems? What if he or she has autism or attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactive disorder? Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says, "All children have the right to good health." What the government often forgets is that this means mental and emotional health. Recreation is one of the ways of preventing such things as depression and breakdowns. How is somebody able to have a recreational life as a care leaver? In conclusion, Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children should be included in all matters that affect them. Children and young people in care were never included in the decisions to implement the weekly benefits, the national minimum wage, social service policies etc. The only thing I can recall during my time in care is being asked what activity I would like to have next week and I had a choice of one or two activities. 80 per cent of care leavers leave care without any qualifications at all. I am an unproud example of that statistic. The necessary support was not set up despite constant inquiries by myself. Government policies need to be looked at closely with young people, not just vulnerable young people, although this is vital as well. The government made children's homes and foster homes into an institutional life, where young people have to live like a business. That is not life at all. Take the Victoria Climbié case. If the social workers, doctors, policemen and women had asked her even once how she got her injuries, she would still have her precious life today. In hospitals, you cannot refuse medication or discharge yourself if you are under 16. The Children and Young People's Unit document states, "Children and young people should have full participation in a democratic society." Why has not the voting age been reduced to 16? A Children's Rights Commissioner would be essential to promote and implement and advocate children's rights in schools, in the law, social services and other local authorities. It is good to have the CYPU. It is a positive step for a Children's Rights Commissioner who would be independent in the government and this is very important and essential. The Children's Rights Commissioner should also have powers—e.g., I mentioned some of the issues that affect children and young people. A Children's Rights Commissioner could look at these areas and make sure that, when laws are made, the government, media, social services, local authorities, etc., always take into account what effect they have on children. Children and young people should always be consulted on big decisions. Adults should not be wary to trust us. You need to give respect to get it back. Giving evidence today is a step in the right direction. I hope we get more chance in the future. Consulting with children's groups such as Right Here, Right Now is the right step for the future and I hope you have more opportunities.

  256. Thank you very much. You have obviously taken a lot of time considering all these issues in the past. I was particularly interested in what you said about 80 per cent of people leaving care with no training at all. What would you like done about that? Do you think that is an issue for the carers, the care homes, or is it something where we could have legislation to make it compulsory or better allowances?
  (James Sweeney) It means that local authorities should liaise with each other. Take my case, for instance. I mentioned earlier that I am an unproud example of that 80 per cent. I left college approximately five or six weeks ago. I had no support. I have been waiting for support for 12 months. Nothing came through. I asked the lecturers and social workers why the support had not come through. They said, "We could not find the funding." I said, "Why did you not inform me?" Do you know what their answer was? "You should have asked." That is just a bit immature of these professionals and they are always on about young people being immature and irresponsible. The situation needs liaising. It needs funding input into places like colleges, schools, special support units, counsellors for people to speak to. Lecturers and social workers need to be trained in this sort of thing. They should not walk into an office thinking they can do the job.

  257. You want training for lecturers in colleges?
  (James Sweeney) And teachers in schools.

  258. Did you get help from your college in finding a job? Did you get some job counselling? Has anyone given you that kind of help and advice?
  (James Sweeney) I have had to sort that out myself. I have to go to Connections which was recently set up in my area. I have had to go and see the careers adviser by myself. I did not even realise there was a careers adviser until I read a college leaflet. Social workers could not help me. They did not have the right experience to go along with me, so they said. They had not got the time to go into careers. We need more social workers and support workers to help young people in care in the local environment. Speaking from my own experience, my family was not there to go to these places with me so it only seems right that I should have somebody to act as a parent to go along with me.

Baroness Whitaker

  259. Fred and James have been talking about children not being consulted enough. Gbemi also said that the Children's Rights Commissioner could get in contact with children. As we know, there is an Article in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that children's voices themselves should be heard. How do you think that Article, Article 12, could be promoted by a Human Rights or Children's Commissioner?
  (Joel Semakula) Article 12 states that whenever adults make a decision that will affect children in any way they have the right to give their opinion and the adults have the responsibility to take that seriously. The Commissioner could ask schools and children before big decisions are made; not only ask them about the little decisions that children do not really care about. For example, when the government is building a play scheme or something like that, ask young people where they think it should be, not what colour the walls should be. Have a person or persons who are quite young go to schools and clubs, asking kids their views about different decisions and changes that the government would like to make so he or she can return all the information back to the Commissioner and they can decide whether to go ahead with a decision or change. For example, whether kids think that a new park could be put in their area. That is something young people could be asked. Have places where kids can go to when they are in trouble. Have a counsellor so they could report to them, who has the power to change things for children. You could also have a help line which kids could phone if they think something in the area needs changing or they do not think something is right. Have child friendly activities and meetings to make it easier for young people to give their views and so that kids do not have to go to these long, boring meetings. Have people who translate documents from the government—for example, the CRAE project—to make it easier for young people to access, read and understand these documents. The Commissioner could promote young people contributing to decision making across the board. Maybe they could hold decision making classes for younger people to make it easier for them to tell the Commissioner what they think and not to be afraid. They could also promote it in the school curriculum. I think children and young people would like to learn about their rights but I do not think there is any information available for them, which is quite unfair. Children and young people are heavy users of public services but they normally have little say, according to the government, about decisions affecting them. This needs changing. Children and young people can participate in very simple things but little decisions to adults might seem like big things to children and young people. For example, when a playground is closed down and a new one is going to be built, nobody considers us. Some children might have many memories of that old park and do not want a new one to be built. Nobody is asked because adults think it does not really matter, but it does and there is nobody to tell. That is why I think a Commissioner would be good for kids.

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