Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
MONDAY 10 JUNE 2002
260. I particularly like the idea of decision
making classes. Perhaps adults could do with those as well. You
said a Children's Rights Commissioner could arrange somewhere
for children to go to if they were in trouble. Do you think the
child ought to be able to go alone or should they always be accompanied
by an adult, either a parent or carer, or somebody completely
independent of them?
(Joel Semakula) That should be the children's decision
if they want to go by themselves or with an adult. If they went
by themselves, they might have something which they cannot talk
to adults about. It might be easier for them to talk to a complete
stranger. If they did want to go with adults, maybe the adult
could come in or stay outside so they can speak to the counsellor
and they can give them advice so that they will come out knowing
that someone has listened to them. Maybe that counsellor could
also talk to the Commissioner about all the things that he has
heard from kids and then the Commissioner would have the power
to change something for kids.
261. What you are saying is that the Commissioner
could find out first hand what children's problems were and might
be in a position to change that?
(Joel Semakula) To change something for kids that
might make it easier and a better environment for kids. This might
be good for kids in care and people on the streets and people
who have been put in prison. There might be someone for them to
talk to and the Commissioner could work out that there is something
wrong that needs changing.
(James Sweeney) I have noticed cases of parents going
to prison for their kids' truancy. If a young person has mental
disorders or for whatever reason that young person cannot go to
school, they are being bullied; they are scared if they go home
their parents will say, "Get back to school", so the
only thing left for that person is to roam the streets.
262. Andy, we have heard some individual comments
from various of the other young people about what Children's Rights
Commissioners might do but generally how could a Children's Rights
Commissioner create a culture of respect for children and young
(Andy Butler) I think a Children's Rights Commissioner
would create a culture of respect for children and young people
by turning round most of the public's preconceptions of how we
are. By this I mean turning round ideas that we have no rights
and are violent good for nothings. We are not a generation of
that but a generation that is thirsty for recognition about abilities
and skills we have to offer. Too often in serious decisions that
will affect us heavily we are left out of the decision and then
people wonder why we are not enthusiastic about it. For example,
when new youth centres are opened, most of the time we are not
asked whereabouts we would like it but we are asked to choose
the colour of the walls or the floor. There are few people who
listen to us really and treat us equally and therefore comply
with Article 12 of the Convention, the Article that some people
say is the most important. Some people think that whenever adults
make a decision that will affect you in any way, you have the
right to give your opinion and adults have to take this seriously.
That is stated in the UNICEF Know Your Rights leaflet.
Most of these are youth workers or people who work with young
people on a day to day basis. One of the main problems I have
found is that many young people have no idea that they actually
do have rights. This is a major lack of implementation on the
government's part. Article 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights
of the Child states, "All adults and children should know
about this Convention. You have the right to learn about your
rights and adults should learn about them too." That is also
in the UNICEF Know Your Rights leaflet. One other lack
of guidelines is when the government was last checked by the Committee
on the Rights of the Child they recommended that an independent
body was set up. This has not happened. I personally think that
what a Commissioner would do is publicly state all these and make
sure that this never happens again. There is an awful lot of misrepresentation
of young people in the media. Only bad things make it into the
news; yet a lot of better things happen every day. For example,
the news in recent weeks has been covered with stories of people
playing truant and causing havoc. The media in December failed
to pick up a brilliant event which showed how committed children
and young people are. This event was a children's rights march
to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the UK Government's ratification
of the UN Convention coming into practice. This went with almost
no media recognition, the most being a mention on Child Line News
and Sky News and a Commissioner would create a culture of good
things being in the news. As another example, a recent critic
called Yap Durk, the chairman of the Committee on the Rights of
the Child, consulted with the people. There is perceived violence
in the culture of young people which would be improved by consulting
with young people about their rights and how they will work. What
I feel a Commissioner should do is ensure that this makes it into
the news as well. One other problem I know about is that there
is a stereotype of young people as thieves. This is completely
not true. Most of the time, it is members of the other generation
that steal. Security guards have said that the other generations
get away with it because they are concentrating their attention
on stopping young people from getting away with anything. A Commissioner
or Commission would make a point of this and work towards getting
greater recognition of how often young people are accused and
found not guilty by courts or searched and found to have nothing
on them. If and when we get a Children's Rights Commissioner or
Commission, his or her main job will be to create the right range
of public information. Along with that, depending on the schedules,
the Commissioner, if invited, could go on a wide range of television
programmes to promote themselves and the Commission that they
are leading. The Commissioner would be well known and in a prime
position to talk about everything that children and young people
have done to turn the public's opinion of young people around.
The Commissioner will publicise this and in doing so the Commissioner
will be publicising his or her staff and the office. One big way
in which young people could find out about a Commissioner and
their rights is if it is put on the national curriculum. Children's
Rights Commissioners exist and work successfully in 11 western
European countries and also in Northern Ireland and Scotland they
either have one or are on their way to getting one. Why not England
which has 11.3 million under 18s? We are the future of tomorrow,
the adults of tomorrow and the people who will run the country
263. You make a really persuasive case for the
notion of a Children's Rights Commissioner. You exemplify too
that children have a lot to say. I was quite surprised at the
emphasis you put on adults thinking that children are good for
nothings. Do you really think that that is why grown ups do not
create children's rights because they think very badly of them,
or is it just that they think you should be seen and not heard,
that you are represented by your parents and that they will say
everything for you?
(Andy Butler) It is a combination of all those but
also there is quite a lot of misrepresentation in the media. A
lot of things happened in the last year that show how good children
and young people know about things and can show what they are
thinking about them but they are not seen. It is always the bad
things that get into the papers. If somebody is mugged, it is
a youth. When people read the papers or see the news, they think,
"Oh, it's a youth that has done all these bad things",
so all youths must be like that.
264. You think a big function for the Commissioner
would be to put around a lot of information indicating that children
have rights and also presumably, from what you say, encouraging
children to take them up and letting everybody in the public area
know that children want to take their rights up.
(Andy Butler) Yes. Also, the big problem is that most
children do not know about it because Right Here, Right Now, with
funding from the NSPCC, got going last July and met for the first
time in the six week holidays. When we went back to school, I
was telling all my friends at school that I had this brilliant
weekend away, learning about children's rights and what a Children's
Rights Commissioner would do and they turned round and went, "What
are children's rights? We do not know about them. Do they exist?"
Article 42 says they should be saying, "Yes, I know about
the rights", but they do not.
265. Job one would be to make sure that there
is lots of information disseminated to children so that they can
take up their rights?
(Andy Butler) Not just children but people who work
with children as well. It is not just down to the children and
young people to know their rights; it is down to the people who
work with them as well to know that they have the rights and to
respect those rights as well.
266. The Children's Rights Commissioner to whom
many, you and your colleagues here, will look for a lot of help
is bound to be an adult, is it not? How do you think he or she
will be able to make sure that children's views are represented
through him or her?
(Andy Butler) It has to be an adult at the beginning.
The perception could be that some children should be seen and
not heard. Some people could still think that and think, "They
are just going on about something." If it is an adult saying
it, they would listen because it is like people of the same age.
They would think they would be able to listen to them; whereas
if it was some young person they would be thinking, "Why
should we listen to them?"
267. You would have to make sure that the Commissioner
had a lot of input from children's support groups and representative
groups so that he or she could be kept on the straight and narrow
about what you wanted.
(Andy Butler) One of the main things that the Commissioner
should always do is consult with children and young people at
least once a week to maintain what they think, what they feel
him or her is doing and whether it is right so that it is not
just the Commissioner feeding the Commission with what him or
her thinks should happen.
(James Sweeney) Right Here, Right Now will be in consultation
with the Children's Rights Commissioner and the Commissioner would
hear from young people. Of course it would be nearly impossible
for all 11.3 million under 18s but the more the better.
268. That would be up to us to work out with
the system, would it not?
(James Sweeney) Exactly, yes.
269. You have been looking at the question of
the Children's Rights Commissioner and lots of you have already
been talking about it. Nonetheless, you have been working hard
on this so how do you think a Children's Rights Commissioner would
make children's lives better?
(Gbemi Sodimu) A Children's Rights Commissioner would
make children's lives better because children will be able to
have their own say and for something to be actually done about
it. The Commissioner will have the power to make things actually
happen. He or she would be independent and nobody will be able
to tell him or her that they cannot do it.
270. When you say that the Children's Rights
Commissioner can make children's lives better, how could we make
children and young people feel confident about trying to use the
Commissioner's office? What would make them feel confident?
(Gbemi Sodimu) A colourful, child-friendly, relaxed
environment will encourage young people to give their advice to
the Commissioner and nice, friendly staff will boost the trust
of children and young people. Young people will feel confident
because they will actually get the chance to be taken seriously.
271. We have to make it friendly?
(Gbemi Sodimu) Yes.
(Andy Butler) One of the reasons why I have really
enjoyed this project is that it has not been like working with
youth workers. It has been like working with friends because the
people we have been working with have treated us as equals. When
we got a phone call from them, at least one of the workers has
had to ring back because she has forgotten to say something because
we were just chatting like friends.
272. Let us say we had a Children's Rights Commissioner.
You have all talked about the importance of having one. How are
we going to make sure that children know about a Children's Rights
(Gbemi Sodimu) Children and young people should be
taught at school about the Commissioner and children's rights
because some people do not even know that they have children's
rights. What is the point of having children's rights if we do
not know about them? I think it should be put into the national
curriculum as a subject so that children will know that somebody
is on their side. Schools should be able to get in touch with
the Commissioner if any of the pupils have any problems and the
Commissioner can get in touch with the child and try and help
in any way they can.
273. You have all made a very strong case this
afternoon for having a Children's Rights Commissioner but the
other issue that sometimes gets put alongside this is the idea
of having a minister for children. You have all spoken this afternoon
very clearly about your voice not being heard and not being represented
and yet the government makes all sorts of decisions which affect
your lives. Some of you have spoken up brilliantly about the importance
of a Children's Rights Commissioner being independent and not
be a bit of the government. Does anybody here have any views on
whether or not, as well as a Children's Rights Commissioner, we
should have a minister for children and, if we should have a minister
for children, how important do you think that is for the government?
(James Sweeney) At the moment, Mr Denham is the Minister
for Children and Young People. I do not think Mr Denham will have
the time to consult with children with the important role he has.
(Fred Tyson Brown) I do not think a Member of Parliament
or a member of a political party will be as dedicated to the subject
as a Commissioner because a Commissioner's whole working is around
children's rights; whereas, if we had a minister, he would also
be a Member of Parliament for his constituency and have many other
duties. He would not have it as a high priority as somebody who
is totally dedicated to what they were doing like a Commissioner.
(James Sweeney) What would be the point of having
a Children's Rights Commissioner and a minister when the Children's
Rights Commissioner would be doing his job. It is not the job
of a minister. The better way is to have the Commissioner.
(Joel Semakula) You could have an advisory board for
the Commissioner so that people could say their views to help
the office. You could have a group of young people who could help
the Commissioner with all the decisions and have child-friendly
meetings so that you could get loads of young people who will
come to these meetings and you can get more people interested
in children's rights.
274. Do you think if you had an advisory board
people should just be put on it or do you think you should have
some way of doing elections amongst young people to get on it?
(Gbemi Sodimu) Children should get their chance because
adults can vote. Children should get the chance for who they want
to be on the advisory board so that they know the people on the
advisory board will do the job for them.
(Joel Semakula) They should also get to vote for who
is the Commissioner. The Commissioner should be an adult but quite
a young adult.
275. Most of us have people who have inspired
us. Sometimes they are people who are still alive; sometimes they
are people in history. I wonder whether each of you would like
to say who it is in history or who is still alive today who you
feel has done the most or is doing the most for children's rights.
(Fred Tyson Brown) There are so many people. I cannot
name them all. I am not really sure.
(Andy Butler) It is not anyone in particular because
I do not think there is anyone in particular. The only people
who have done the most are the Commissioners or Ombudsmen around
the world, anybody who works for a children's based charity and
all of those people who have dedicated their professional career
to trying to make the lives of children better.
(James Sweeney) Rosina Lyah, our project leader. Unfortunately,
she is leaving tomorrow so she will not be able to carry on the
brilliant work she has been doing for us.
(Fred Tyson Brown) The hundreds of children who are
sitting on non-governmental organisations are the people who are
really doing the most for us.
(Gbemi Sodimu) I did not know that children had rights
until I heard about the advisory board when there was a meeting
held. From my point of view, the advisory board and children's
organisationsif there was not these organisations, nobody
would know that there were children's rights.
(Joel Semakula) One of the biggest organisations for
kids, the NSPCC, have done a lot. They are taking loads of kids
every year to make sure that kids are safe and healthy and there
is somewhere where kids can go to if they are unhealthy or if
they think that they are being treated badly. The NSPCC will try
and help them. They have done a lot for children and their rights.
276. Can I thank you very much for appearing
before us today? As you know, what has happened here today will
all be written down and will be part of our report. We will send
you a copy. We will tell you what we recommend when we finish
our report. I know that the people who have heard you today will
know that the decision we took to ask you to come along today
and give us your views was entirely right and we have gained a
lot from you, particularly you talking about not just your own
experiences but the experiences of your friends and you are perfectly
entitled to stay behind to listen to the next witness. Thank you
(James Sweeney) Can we hand out these post cards?
Chairman: Of course.